Monday, August 18, 2014

Real Mathematics!

I am gearing up for the fall semester here at Hopkins.  This fall, I am teaching our version of vector calculus (aka multivariable calulus), 110.202 Calculus III.  It is a great course, beautifully visual and quite subtle in many ways.  Good stuff! 

I sent out a "hello" email to my 300+ students, inviting them to check out the webpage and generally welcoming them to the course.  In this email, I say near the end:

Even though one may think of calculus as simply a math course where one learns some techniques for solving physics and statistics problems, it actually is much more than this.  Instead of simply learning techniques, we will be learning how and why the techniques even exist, what they say about the structure of mathematics like calculus, and how to think analytically and reason deductively and abstractly.  THIS is the real mathematics.  The techniques will come along for the ride.  You will learn those also. 
Perhaps the best way to drive this point home is the following:  It does not matter what your current and/or future major is or will be.  You are here at Hopkins to train to be a scholar at something.  Part of that training includes proficient and efficient understanding of the abstract logical structural framework found in all complex ideas and constructions.  This is really what mathematics is.  We typically use numbers and operations on those numbers to study and exhibit mathematical ideas because they provide the self-consistent framework needed for the study.  I will say a lot more about this on the first day of class. 
Perhaps this is one of my personal definitions of mathematics.  But I like it.  Make sense?

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