Mathematics - The devils work
During my career I have had to deal with people with many different careers or disciplines. The one thing that I have seen time and time again is people are happy to read my reports, view my drawings and accept my suggestions, but if I show them a sheet of mathematical calculations they just switch off. Not only does this apply to office managers, council officials or the general public, but often those who should be familiar with mathematics as part of their job. These include architects, accountants, ecologists or even other engineers.
This is understandable as while I am not sure if the educational system has changed in recent years, I know when I was at school and even more recently, mathematics was seen as a separate subject in the same way as history, geography, science or metalwork and woodwork. No attempt was made to show school children that mathematics is the backbone of science, technology and engineering. It has to be seen as an integral part of these subjects and not something that is totally separate.
I have often heard educationalists and mathematicians explain that everyone needs mathematics in their everyday life. They explain this as working out your pay packet or working out the score in darts or even when you go shopping. I agree most people need to be able to add, subtract, multiply or even divide, but this is arithmetic, which is only one division of mathematics. Most people cannot understand why they need to know algebra or geometry for their future career. What most people are not taught in school is that these are divisions of Pure mathematics. There is also Applied mathematics and this includes probability and statistics, computational science, mechanics of structures, fluid mechanics and particle mechanics amongst others. Its in the area of applied mathematics that the subject begins to make sense and pure mathematics just provides a set of tools for working with applied mathematics.
As far as I know, as I do not have any knowledge of the current educational system, schools try to provide some of the tools of pure mathematics to prepare any students who wish to use applied mathematics later in their career. The problem is without knowing about applied mathematics, pure mathematics makes little sense.
I have used applied mathematics all my working life, but like many people when I was at school, I hated mathematics (pure mathematics) and could not see the point of it. I failed my 11 plus and was therefore considered to have failed and my future was considered bleak. During my secondary education I was actually told by a senior mathematics teacher whatever I decided to do in my life not to pick a career that involves maths. Quite pleased now that I didn’t listen to his advice, or come to think of it much else he tried to tell me. Most of my secondary education was in England, at the end of my time in school I returned to Scotland and within a year I had won a price for, yes, Mathematics. I now know that my failure in the English school was not entirely my fault, but the fault of the system and a senior member of staff who couldn’t motivate me to understand the subject.
This website will not try to explain the mysteries of Pure Mathematics, but will instead concentrate on Applied Mathematics and only use the tools provided by the pure subject as necessary.
OK, that’s enough of my blethering or rambling text. To try and demonstrate the difference between Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics visit my page on Gas Laws
image - jean victor balin [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
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Web page last updated 28 December 2018