When I was in Y12 and was studying Maths, History, Physics and Philosophy the subject I didn’t like was History, because I found it very difficult in similar ways to the parts of studying Philosophy that I find difficult now, though I did like the subject matter; come Y13 after I’d dropped History, my hated subject was Physics. Again no massive problem with the subject matter but didn’t enjoy studying it at all, and was very glad to leave it behind. Now I am at university (Y16, wow) and only two of those four subjects remain, and the one I dislike is Maths. It seems that I always have to have one to ‘hate on’, at any stage, while the other(s) end up glorified way beyond what they deserve.

There are times when I don’t feel this about Maths, when I really like what’s going on, rather than just a mild appreciation for it after much explanation, which is what happens the rest of the time. But these times are always when the work is comparatively easy: when the only reason I haven’t got it before is because I’ve been scared off or whatever and not looked at it properly. I’ll say, that’s really cool, and my fellow Math/Phils will say “yeah well it’s easy”. On those occasions I really surprise myself, because I’m like “why does this feel so different, is this what it used to be like when I liked this subject?” Now, this enjoyment is unlike what I might have from other disciplines which I like just because I like learning. For example I enjoy popular and not-so-popular science and History and whatever because I like learning, but the Maths enjoyment I’m talking about here is definitely of a higher level, the kind of level you might expect if I chose to do this subject at university.

Essentially my realisation over the past few months has been that I’m cut off from enjoying Maths by my lack of ability—or by what is a too hard (for me) degree course, I suppose you could say. I don’t care enough about the subject matter to enjoy it after a lot of effort; my enthusiasm is drained by the time I get to the point where it’s interesting. It’s hard to say whether or not this is because I don’t like pure Maths problem solving, because I do tend to like problem solving and enjoy that kind of thinking, so it might just purely be the difficulty or also I might not actually like the process, even if I’m interested in the results or watching someone else do the process.

The situation is very different with Philosophy. It is as hard if not harder as a subject; the lack of a methodology (perhaps its defining feature) means that however pure-clever you are, you’re never going to have an easy ride. In Maths, if you add IQ you basically add Maths. But I find this difficulty and challenge thrilling and great to be a part of, which is definitely missing in Maths: it’s a case of “hmm, this is hard, it’s going to take me ages to get to grips with the basics of the problem and what everyone has said about it—great!” in Philosophy versus “oh great, another question I will struggle with for five hours and maybe, maybe make some progress on, but maybe I’ll achieve nothing, how boring” in Maths.

So I think that I should probably have done a straight Philosophy degree if enjoyment was all that mattered; on the other hand, Maths is definitely good for your mind so maybe it’ll turn out better in the long run that I did it. I’ve got one year left of Maths (and another two of Philosophy), and I think that’ll be enough brain-improvement for now.

A problem with all this is the Maths-fatigue I get. My friend James, doing a straight-up Maths degree over in tabland, often wants to show me some Maths he’s been doing when he comes to visit or I meet him somewhere or visit his house, and generally I just don’t care that much because I immediately think ”*sigh* another problem I won’t be able to solve”. This is sad because if he came to me with, to use the same examples again, some interesting Physics or History—at a much lower level because neither of us do degrees in those—I’d be interested, I think, and I would like to be similarly interested in Maths again but I’ve just been burnt out by not enjoying it enough to do the difficult stuff I have signed up for.

There’s an inconsistency in this post over whether or not I actually like Maths more than I like learning in general. Note that I explained earlier how when Maths is easy enough for me to get it all, I like it more than I would like some History or Physics, but then I’ve just said that I end up liking it less than those due to burn out. This is because I don’t actually know if I like Maths anymore, basically, due to all this. What I do know is that I don’t enjoy the process of studying it formally, so I’m glad to see an end to that in a year’s time, and I can only hope that my general interest in the subject and in the problem-solving style associated to it will revive itself as the years go by.

While writing about academic things I should note a gradual decline in my belief I can do very well in exams next year, and I gradual lowering of aspirations for where I’ll end up for graduate study. This could be bad, as I need the motivation, or it could be good because I’m pressuring myself less and will therefore end up achieving more; no idea atm.


I actually strongly disagree that “if you add IQ you basically add Maths”- I think this is a misguided view of the subject. Maybe it’s just me, but I would say most of what you’ve said about Philosophy about Maths.

Comment by jr512 Mon 05 Sep 2011 23:38:12 UTC