We all have to solve problems and challenges in our personal and professional lives every day. Being able to understand and implement the classic concepts of mathematical thinking such as algebra, proofs, and geometry will only strengthen your problem solving abilities and capabilities. In his new book from Basic Books, “The Magic of Math: Solving For X and Figuring Out Why,” mathematician and author Arthur Benjamin carefully explains these ideas and provides practical tips and tricks to help you hone your math skills.
We reached out to Arthur with a few questions to hear his thoughts on how mathematics can impact your career and personal development.
What kind of reaction do you typically get from someone when you talk to them about your love of all things mathematical? How do you convince them to embrace these principles?
In my experience, you can motivate someone to learn mathematics through either relevance or elegance. Either they need to see that the math they are learning will be useful for solving problems that they care about now (not three math classes from now) or the pattern or logic is so beautiful that the applications don’t matter. For example, music may have applications, but most people just enjoy it for its own beauty.
What are the benefits of mathematical fluency in today’s world? What advantages does it offer a young professional or someone perhaps trying to switch careers later in life?
The world needs independent thinkers, and I think nothing does a better job of training you to think logically, critically, or creatively than mathematics. Certainly in this world when we are surrounded by data, we need people who can understand what all of these numbers are saying and not saying.
How should a professional or student include mathematics and mathematical thinking into their daily learning habits and goals? What are some of the more efficient ways to study and learn mathematics?
Early in the book, we focus on mental math strategies that will improve your general number sense. Then we move to algebra to improve your ability to think abstractly. The chapters on Proofs and Geometry help you think more logically, and the chapters on counting, Fibonacci numbers, infinity and the number 9 allow you to have more fun with the subject. The book is written for both math newcomers and more experienced mathematicians with indicators when it’s perfectly fine to skip ahead. When you get stuck, sometimes the best thing to do is to keep going and then come back to the trickier material when you have more perspective and experience.
Recently, there has been an explosion in interest on the topics of data and data mining. Do you think that the role of mathematics will continue to grow in importance for professionals and students? Will industries, careers, and hobbies that did not involve much math before will absorb some of these principles moving forward?
We have been teaching pretty much the same math topics for the last 200 years and I agree that this should change. First of all, we have so much computing power at our disposal, that it is not as important as it used to be to be able to perform certain calculations by hand anymore. This gives us the chance to think more about concepts, ideas, and allow more time for data science in the curriculum.