Tuesday, September 20, 2005

You may be in a math class if ...

- Your professor is [probably] younger than you [for a certain value of "you" =)]: something about mathematicians doing their best work at a young age.
- The only actual numbers you ever see are 0 and 1 [and maybe infinity, though that's not really a number], everything else is symbols: connections to real-world data are left as that most dreaded of all things -- an "exercise for the reader".
- You are frequently subjected to unprovoked proofs: the professor says something like "And now we need a result that you should all remember from previous classes in X", everybody in the class stares back with a perfect poker face, betraying neither knowledge nor ignorance and the professor then says "... but if you don't, let's prove it". Sometimes, it'd be really nice to be able to say "Dude, no, really, I trust you on this one, let's just move on."
- Even the sentences that have no mathematical content sometimes don't make sense: after assaulting you with a proof you really didn't need, the professor says "And even if this is confusing, the meaning should be clear". Right, that clears it all up, then.
- There are one or two magic principles that, like fairy dust, can be used to explain everything and you're screwed if you don't really understand them: examples are the Central Limit Theorem and the Law of Large Numbers.

These observations were sparked by a statistics class I'm taking. In his defense, the professor does explain the material quite well, without resorting to the low-down-and-dirty "... and it should be obvious that ..." trick very often. Wiser heads have suggested that I acquire statistics through self-study of an apparently very good book, but for now I'll stick with the class and see how it goes. Thankfully MIT lets you drop a class until ridiculously late in the semester, so I'll have plenty of time to flee should I be over- [or under-]whelmed in a few weeks.

2 Comments:

Blogger Kristofer said...

Great list. Makes me want to take another math class.

Kristofer
Compbio blog

5:23 AM  
Anonymous Bill Tozier said...

I swear that I wrote this before I read your entry.

We should get your professor and my (100% purely hypothetical straw man) professor together, and see what comes of it.

And my dear friend -- who ever said I was wise? I just talk a lot. It turns out that people just tend to forget wrong and especially confusing stuff faster than stuff that confirms their existing beliefs....

11:39 AM  

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