What’s the state of popular math?

Compare the first-screen search results of the keywords ‘popular math’ and ‘popular science’ to know the ‘unpopular status’ of popular math, as evident from the –

  1. number of links thrown up in Google (math links are 1/5 of the science links)
  2. nature of links (‘popular math’ search throws up quite a few ‘popular science’ links too, in Google)
  3. number of popular math writers and magazines (far fewer compared to science)
  4. nature of web-resources (‘usual math’ sites spring up as popular math sites – implying ‘curricular math’ is the popular math as people hardly seek anything else)
  5. contents of the Wikipedia page (please compare yourself the wiki pages for the two), and this page also indicates why there is little interest in ‘popular math’

Not surprisingly, math enjoys a unique distinct of being the most ‘unpopular subject’, the majority among well-educated people take pride in asserting ‘I never understood math, and I am happy I got away from it in Grade XI’ (and I’m not overly banking on the share of the fairer sex for this reality). To the contrary, you may not have ever heard people taking pride in poor skills and knowledge of art, music, language, sports etc.

For a very long part of the civilized history of men, math was almost exclusively talked about, written for, and lived by mathematicians, and physical scientists. Interestingly, it was only with the development of the modern school education system in the later 1800s that math came out its shell and math was written for ‘non-math people’.

In this version of math, logic was left out and process/methods were written on, in the rather genuine believe that a logic-centered math will be very difficult to be learnt to teach, or learnt for self; math was thus further abstracted, mechanized, and remains so to this day! For the record, the most powerful thing about math is its abstractness and thus, seamless applications across the domains of life and work.

Fortunately, it didn’t matter that math education of masses was bereft of its logical and concrete foundations; 20th century living and work, for the most part, didn’t demand everyday mathematical applications beyond the abstracted four operations – it was the age of ‘boxed hard-ware’.

However, increasing ‘software-isation’ is a fundamental shift for each one of us – making it imperative on us to make explicit the logical aspects of numerous situations around us. Understanding and expressing logic in every situation and context calls for sound mathematical foundations.

About the Author Maths Editor

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