Particle 101: How the hell does math work?

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We’re back to demystify the world of math.

In our last math how-to article, we asked the question WTF is the math? and immersed in its philosophy and history.

If that wasn’t enough for you, if you yearn to be sitting in math class again waiting for some math magic, you’re in luck.

This time we ask how does math work? How is it built? And how did it get so complicated?

from the ground

The foundation of mathematical theory is arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. We’ve used it for thousands of years to calculate numbers of things – money, sheep, pebbles, bitcoins, whatever. Even some animals can do it.

Algebra is built from arithmetic, where some sadists put the alphabet in math. But it’s really just a way of doing arithmetic with unknown quantities. For example, 12 mango trees each grow x number of mangoes to give y total number of mangoes, so y mangoes = 12 times x mangoes.

Algebra leads to calculus and derivatives, which is a little trickier. In school, that’s when a lot of people decided they were “more of the artistic type.” Essentially, it’s how these unknown values ​​of algebra change relative to each other – like acceleration being a change in velocity.

We are not – I repeat – NOT about to try to teach calculus, but trigonometry, integrals and geometry are all similarly constructed. It makes sense, right? Right?!


OK, this may not help anyone actually do math, but it gives us an idea of ​​how math works.

At a fundamental level, math takes something you know to be true and builds a new idea from it. Algebra is built from arithmetic. Calculus is built from algebra. This process continues indefinitely, creating more and more complicated mathematics.

The idea of ​​proving something to be true is a big part of math (arguably, that’s the whole point). So much so that in the early 1900s, a math textbook took 360 pages to unequivocally prove that 1+1=2. Ouch!

In mathematics, no hypothesis escapes examination, and every truth requires proof. Mathematics works by painstakingly proving the simplest truth, then endlessly devising more complicated and abstract ideas to prove it again.

In this way, mathematics uses reason to turn imagination into truth.

And as they say, the truth can be an ugly thing. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, just like math.

This article originally appeared on Particle. Read the original article.

Maria D. Ervin