My View of the Mathematical World

Photo taken in Matagalpa, Nicaragua

HAVANA TIMES – My love for mathematics began in my childhood when I was nine or ten years old, I slept in the same room as my grandparents for fear of sleeping alone. In those times my grandfather and I used to play before going to sleep, when the lights were off he would name me a country and I answered him with its capital or he would ask me mathematical questions that I solved in my mind to be able to answer them. In both cases he would correct me if I was wrong.

That is how I opened my mind to mathematical exercises and to the importance of numbers in everyday life. At that age when I went to run errands I was always told that I had to calculate how much money I had to get back, sometimes I also counted my steps to the nearest store.

I liked numbers a lot; but when sums, divisions and exponentials began to incorporate letters I started to hate them. Partly because I don’t like reading or writing and having my worst enemies right next to the numbers that had always accompanied me until then was an act of betrayal.

The subject I struggled with at that time was algebraic identities, I didn’t want to learn anything about it and I lost my school year. The next year I changed high schools, luckily, I was already used to changing schools so it didn’t affect me much.

In the new high school I had a math teacher that I liked very much, I liked the way she taught and I ended up learning the algebraic identities that I had so much trouble with before.

In the third year of high school the Math Olympics and the Language and Literature Olympics were held as two separate events, and I participated in both. But the important one for me was Mathematics.

The winner would compete against other high schools at the level of the municipality, and so on until the national level.

Well, I remember that among the participants there was a boy who came from my old high school. At that moment I felt like in the typical Spokon anime (sports anime) in which the participants prepare themselves before their tournaments and give their best effort, as well as meet opponents against whom they compete.

Well that guy from my old school was my rival at that time and I wanted to beat him, I wanted to stand out from him and show that despite being smaller, the high school I was in at that time had a high level.

I was quite nervous during the exam, but I went through the exercises trying to be as sure as possible of my answers. Until there came an exercise that I didn’t know how to answer, it was my last exercise.

By this time my nerves were on edge and some of the participants had already handed in their exam. The rush got the best of me, and I tried to solve it by logic. Even today I believe that my answer was correct because they didn’t give us back the exams to know our score.

At the end of the day I finished third and my opponent came in first place. I was very frustrated, I lost points because I didn’t use a formula and because I didn’t show how I arrived at my answer. It was a hard blow but my love for mathematics grew even more from then on.

In the fifth year of high school, there is the ” Olympics of Knowledge”. That contest covers Mathematics, Language and Literature, Sports and I don’t remember if it also included English. In that contest I met my rival again and that time things were different, once again I came in third place and my rival did not get any place. In addition, my partner managed to win the Women’s competition, so our school raised its head showing the level it had.

At the University I went to in Nicaragua nothing special happened with mathematics, it was more complicated for me again. Fortunately, now I understand them better in the new university I am part of.

I think it is a bit logical, but it was not until recently that I realized that mathematics is based on knowing how to do a procedure and then apply Ctrl + Z (key combination used to undo an action in Windows).

For example, you learn to add and then subtract, you learn to multiply and then divide, you learn to exponentiate a number or power it and then learn to root it.

It wasn’t until now that I was learning derivatives and integrals that I realized that pattern. And I wouldn’t have noticed it if it weren’t for the teacher who at one point called integration “antiderivatives”.

At the end of the day, mathematics relaxes me; being able to find a solution to a problem, no matter how complicated or difficult to understand it may be, is quite satisfying.

I fondly remember once when a teacher told us that he would give us extra points for solving a numerical sequence, that is, finding the number that separates two numbers in a sequence of numbers.

The number sequence was as follows: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64…

My classmates and I started thinking about the possible answer, talked about it, tried to come up with an answer among the three of us. In the end the extra points in the class became a secondary issue, we just wanted to know the correct answer.

The joy we felt when we managed to find the answer without help from the teacher was one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment I have ever had.

In the end I think I like mathematics because it is exact, because it is challenging, because it has a presence in every corner of the world.

I wish I liked geometry, because then I could take advantage of the few times when I can see basic geometric shapes, in normal objects. In special moments like that I see cubes, spheres, cones or pyramids that I could take advantage of in artistic things like drawing or 3D modeling.

In itself mathematics is precious, if you don’t appreciate it, it’s simply because you haven’t had an experience important enough to give it the love it deserves. And I am fully aware that this is something that happens to me with language.

And it’s just that writing is not my forte, I don’t like it very much, but I know that in language there is a lot of beauty that I am not yet able to see.

Writing here in Havana Times is a challenge for me to be able to appreciate reading and writing more, to appreciate the art of words.

Thank you very much for joining me in this reflection and tell me what is that class that you liked at some point in your studies to which you dedicated a lot of time?

Read more from Axel Saenz’s diary here on Havana Times.

One thought on “My View of the Mathematical World

  • Axel:

    You asked of the readers: “Thank you very much for joining me in this reflection and tell me what is that class that you liked at some point in your studies to which you dedicated a lot of time?”

    Unlike you, in high school math was my worst subject. I just could not grasp the complicated (to me) concepts. Understanding how to solve equations was one thing. When the math teacher introduced mathematical word problems, I was really lost.

    As you so eloquently explained working with just numbers was a pleasure for you. However, when those numbers became wrapped or bundled together with words the whole exercise became, as you state “ . . . an act of betrayal.” I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Our math teacher was an emigrant from Egypt. His profession in Egypt was civil engineering. He could not practice that profession because he lacked the necessary engineering credentials of his new country. So, he became a math teacher. Boy, was he a brilliant math teacher.

    I could never comprehend how he could whip out his “ slide rule” and in an instant provide the answer to a complicated algebraic math problem. We students staring, jaws dropped, absolutely astounded at his mathematical slide rule maneuvers.

    All he did, as we gawking students sat in awe, was manipulate a few fingers on the ruler like instrument, back and forth, back and forth, and instantaneously, voila – the exact answer. Geez, how did he do that in a split second? Only math teachers and certainly civil engineers could provide an explanation. I have never seen a slide rule since high school. I wonder if they still exist?

    Of course, in today’s sophisticated high tech school classrooms with every student equipped with a smart phone solving a complicated math problem is probably not so difficult. But the sheer awe is gone.

    Other than math, every other high school subject I took wasn’t a major stressor.

    You write: “ Writing here in Havana Times is a challenge for me to be able to appreciate reading and writing more, to appreciate the art of words.” Your writing matches your ability and love for mathematics. You articulated your passion extremely well; a very well written and interesting article. Keep up the good written work.

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