Opinion: Why It's All About "Y"

Note: All opinions expressed in this article are the author's own.

Math. After years and years of math, many of its former pupils have rejected the subject. Common arguments include the plain-old "I just don't like it" to the pitiful "I'm not a 'math' person." Others take pride in the fact that they were never "good" at math. Not only are these responses common, but they are also contagious, and the hatred of math is spreading like an infectious disease. People see being "bad" at math like they do the diagnosis of incurable illness—as something that just needs to be accepted.

Figure 1: XKCD webcomic shows the different perceptions in math. If you don’t fit the stereotype, your actions may be judged as being representative of not just you, but the social group you belong to.

As such, math as a field is now divided. Instead of being a "universal" subject, math has become a field constrained by a stereotype—the mathematician as a Caucasian, heterosexual male with thick-rimmed glasses and braces to match. It doesn’t help that math is labeled as "hard", "indefinable", and "irrational" compared to other subjects. But, don’t we know better? The stereotypical mathematician fits into math, but so do you, too.  

I’m here to say that you shouldn’t say "Goodbye!" to math just yet. Why? Think of math in terms of  "y", which is the result of any function. Let me say that you are the domain of all possible values; you are "x". Your actions directly decide the result. Ever hear that you can "change the world"? It is simply that you (x) are changing the world (y).

Figure 2: Math isn’t all numbers. In Flatland, a satirical novel by Edwin Abbott, the story examines dimensions and the social hierarchy of Victorian culture. This is a picture of a house in the two-dimensional world.

Math isn’t all about just "doing it," though much of our lessons are about finding a value. And, as much as I love adding, it's not all algebra and arithmetic. Math is about ideas and patterns that inform our existence. Math deals with the finite, as in 1, 2, and 3, but also with our own limits and inconsistencies. Our previous definitions of "x" and "y" are imperfect because "x" has so many factors. Parts of "x" are in your control, but other parts are left to nature. Can we "do the math" here? Not really, but we can use it to model your action with a reaction. You don’t need to know the finite to appreciate an idea.

If you ask, "When can I use math in the real world?" think about patterns. Whether you are in the arts, business, or zoology, math matters. Doing a piece and need to know the proper ratio? Interested in interest or in optimizing your business? Studying populations? And then there’s statistics –you can’t ever forget about statistics! Moreover, you can use math in the "real world" if you look at things with a skeptical eye. Questions are the basis of math. Each time you ask a question, the answer you receive can lead you to your next question. You’ll discover how your actions (x) make all difference.     

Figure 3: Notice what happens when you add sides onto a polygon. It approaches a circle. (Polygon Circumscribing Constant)

See math as a magic trick. Take a polygon and increase the sides one by one. A triangle transforms into a square, and then later into a dodecagon. And, you can go on! You’ll find that a circle emerges even though your shape is still a polygon. Ready for more? Recognizing the circle as a limit of polygons can help you understand cross-sections of spheres. Maybe, you won’t find math to be just "calculations", but as a pattern that you can fall into.      

Figure 4: FoxTrot by Bill Amend is not all about math, but when it is, it’s a gem.

Enjoy math for the sake of math. I encourage you, as "x", to give this broad subject a second chance. Welcome it with full arms and find yourself in different dimensions! You may not always understand it, but don’t let that get you down. As Buzz Lightyear said, "To infinity and beyond!"

Forget about solving for "x", and try to find "y". Get a greater range—"Y" not?