Efrique has two posts up that I’m certain are a tour de force of mathematics. I deduce they are not because I understand the math, but because I know that Efrique is a genius and his logic in other areas has never failed me.
I don’t understand the math because of this:
Back when I was in school, I sailed through English and foundered on mathematics. My brain looks at numbers, screams, and flees. I blame the way math is taught.
I struggled with basic math for many years, until I hit a point in early middle school when things went “click.” My sails filled with a good wind. I skimmed the waves of numbers. Each new concept slotted perfectly into place: we were plotting a good course, and there seemed nothing ahead but open ocean and the shores of Calculus sometime after a pleasant journey.
As soon as I reached 5 knots, my teachers, in their infinite wisdom, decided I could skip the rest of the basics and move right on to pre-algebra. For some children, this might have been a good move. They’re the ones who “get it” intuitively. For me, it was a disaster. It was like telling a sailor that since he’s so good at navigating by sight, he’s ready to strike out across the open ocean.
And then, there was the Book.
I can’t really describe my pre-algebra book. I remember very little of it. I just remember the look on my father’s face when, disappointed by his daughter’s inability to understand the simplest algebraic concepts, he sat down one night and lectured. Couldn’t understand why I didn’t understand, why I was failing, math is the easiest thing in the world, it’s simple and obvious and –
-then he opened the book, looked at a problem, and stopped mid-rant.
His forehead creased. A little thunderhead formed above his eyebrows. He turned red. He opened his mouth, closed it, looked at a few more problems, and looked at me in utter disgust as I quailed.
“No wonder you don’t understand math,” he snapped. “What is this shit?”
We then spent a delightful hour wherein he ripped the book a new one, while I watched his wrath in awe. He hated that book with a passion.
I never did recover momentum. The wind had been sucked from my sails, the hull staved in, and not even my father could right the ship. Part of that was because he worked 16-hour days and just didn’t have the necessary time. Part of it was because we couldn’t find any sane math books. And the rest was because I’d already taken a berth on another ship, and was starting to chart a literary course.
I would have focused all of my energy and attention on comprehending math, however, if I’d known that as an SF author, I’d someday need the bloody stuff for incidental details like planetary mass and gravitational force, orbits, and a billion other things that go into making a story universe work. I can’t do even the simplest calculations.
One day, I keep telling myself, I’ll take the time to rebuild the ship. I’ll start with regular math and follow every iteration until I finally reach the promised land of calculus. Only, there’s never time. And that impoverishes me. There’s a whole world described in math that I’ll never see and only vaguely comprehend.
When it comes for the math underlying my books, I’ll just have to fake it.
Good thing I can cuss like a sailor, then, eh?