Kill math?

So, I recently followed a link to the site of Bret Victor which mixed in with various weirdness has a “Kill Math” section with the motto:

The power to understand and predict the quantities of the world should not be restricted to those with a freakish knack for manipulating abstract symbols.

As one of the people with said freakish knack, I’m not sure how intelligently I can comment on his approach. I certainly do see his actual examples as a good illustration of how computers and simulation can serve an educational purpose, but I’m not exactly sure what he’s really proposing along these lines. I mean, presumably to produce simulations like that requires the dreaded manipulation of abstract symbols, and I’m assuming he’s not proposing a mathematics curriculum which consists of “Hey, play with this cool iPad ap.”

Which is not to suggest that he needs to have a fully realized curriculum; the video above is pretty cool, and will hopefully encourage some fruitful thinking on somebody’s part.

5 thoughts on “Kill math?

  1. Hmmm… let’s try some analoguous mottoes, see how true they might be, and how well they might parallel the prediction/understanding claim!

    I’ll get us started with

    “The power to play/improvise beautiful counterpoint should not be restricted tho those with a freakish knack for reading and transcribing musical symbols”

    I suspect this instance is mostly true; particularly that there is a very tactile quality to musical performance as-such — with sufficient practise, the connection between musical ideas and control of one’s hands can become wired into the brain. What musical *notation* brings to composition is the ability to communicate musical ideas *without making sounds*, and to separate *composition* from *performance*. In particular, it provides one means to record a composition that could not possibly be performed by one person in real-time. But anyone who knows Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” knows another example of recorded composition that could not be performed by one (or four) individuals, but which (conceivably) could be composed without notation (though I doubt that was the actual case).

    In this case, the first weak point in the analogy seems to me the matching of “beautiful counterpoint” with “quantities of the world” — counterpoint being in any case a free composition within a versatile language, but quantities of the world being outside our direct control — particularly when it comes to predicting with precision.

  2. Wow the first comment blew me away. Your words were precise and I can’t hope to match such a detailed explaination.. I do think the use of symbols or a dumd down system on using the Ipad ap may not be the best course of action.

  3. To take this to the extreme:

    “The ability to perform Shakespeare should not be limited to those who can read.”

    And indeed it isn’t – we can imagine someone learning the lines by memory.

    At the same time I cringe at that – somehow I think that someone who does not have the ability to understand Hamlet written out on pages would not be able to perform it even competently. But at the same time it seems like perhaps a sufficiently good audiobook technology could give someone everything being able to read gives.

  4. The quote says both ‘understand’ and ‘predict’ and not ‘perform’ or ‘compose’. Plenty of people appreciate music or narrative forms, be it theatre or a movie without the ability to create them. Mathematics has been occasionally mooted as an art-form, how does the public, say for example understand Yoneda Lemma? Can it be done? After artwork that was once seen as difficult, say performance art is a commonplace. But then again Finnegan Wake remains as incomprehensible, apart from its very small group of the rest of us.

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