Why I Struggle With Math (And Don’t Really Care)

By Casey Allen

Creativity has no place in the world of mathematics. There is a problem and it has a solution. Rarely do we see a variation in the steps taken in order to reach the solution. This precision is also its selling point. One need not worry about interpretations or conflicting points of view. Nothing is more cut and dry or black and white. Your solution is either right or it isn’t. The objectiveness of such problems and their solutions protects the mathematician from falling victim to criticisms so often associated with more subjective areas of study—so long as their solutions are correct. The successful mathematical problem solver need only memorize the applicable formulas, the situations that call for their use and pay great attention to detail, so as not to make mistakes. If done correctly, this is all that is required to master a mathematical concept.

When dealing with math, especially in an environment where one is being tested or graded on one’s abilities to do so, the lack of creative interpretation provides a much more even, standardized method of judgment. Because a mathematical problem or solution can, without prejudice, be determined as either correct or incorrect, it leaves little room for bias at the hands of the examiner. The correct solution can be regarded as fact, and facts don’t leave much room for argument. The assurance of neutrality is comforting. Without the presence and reliability of fact we wouldn’t know anything for sure, we could only assume—and we’ve all heard the cliché regarding assumptions.

I applaud and respect those who have taken an interest in and made a living out of performing such tasks. After all, somebody needs to calculate the interest due on my modest savings account. They will probably receive much more significant financial compensation for doing so than I ever will writing essays describing the merits of their work. I, on the other hand, will purchase a calculator. The only situation I may find some reason to inject my personal opinion in such matters might be deciding how much to tip my waiter or waitress, which itself has its own semi-standard formula. It’s not that I am not capable of mastering mathematical problems and their solutions; I just have no interest in doing so. My capabilities with regards to solving math problems rely solely on my will and stubbornness, rather than my curiosity and personal interest to do so. I might put forth the effort required to learn and perform the means to reach whatever mathematical ends I may find necessary, but these means will only remain available for my use as long as I consciously consider them to be relevant. Ideas last much longer bouncing between my ears than any amount of numbers.

Words, ideas and language both written and spoken are all of much more importance to me personally. I find the possibilities, variations and interpretations to be far more captivating and rewarding. One sentence can have any number of meanings depending on factors such as emphasis, context and, perhaps most importantly, the personal influences and analysis of whoever is reading or hearing the words. It is said that math is the universal language. This is most certainly true. A mathematical problem is the same no matter the language of its presentation. Languages, giving their subjective nature, can be much more intimidating than the most challenging mathematical equations. 

I will never be a mathematician. I have not the desire, nor do I possess the patience and discipline to be one. If presented with a mathematical problem of some personal interest or importance to me, I will do whatever is necessary to resolve the problem, and will then immediately continue working on whatever more pressing business that sparks my curiosity and holds my attention. Some may view such garbled and subjective rhetoric I find to be of great personal appeal to be equally confusing to them, which is okay; both areas of study have their purveyors, who serve different but equally important functions.