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Math in the Real World: Part 1 – Why We Need It

Ask any scientist or engineer and they will agree that mathematics is the foundation of our society as it is now. It is ever-present in everything in this world, from the smallest grain of sand, up to the sun and the universe itself. Without it there would be no technology and no true understanding of the world around us.

“Yes… but when do we use it?”

The average person uses basic mathematic principles — eg. arithmetic, fractions and geometry — on a daily basis. For example, we use it to:

  • Count how many items we are purchasing at the grocery store,
  • Calculate the added tax of those purchases,
  • Even to tell time!

We don’t always realize it, but every time we have to determine at what time to leave the house in order to be at work on time, or we want to evenly share our candy with our friends, we are quickly doing math in our head.

Even intermediate mathematics — eg. algebra and basic probability/statistics — is commonplace in this world. Outside the obvious fields of science and engineering, these are also used by:

  • Teachers
  • Builders
  • Mechanics
  • Electricians
  • Architects
  • Bankers
  • Accountants
  • Personal trainers
  • Dieticians
  • And more!

We can also consider hobbies. If you take up sewing, jewellery making, home renovation projects, or simply want to track your spending patterns, you’ll probably run into an algebraic problem or two.

Fortunately, with the advancement of technology, we have devices such as calculators, computers and even phone apps that will do most of the math for us.

And, this is where we get into the purpose of advanced math…

All of these aids we use in our daily life required someone to learn advanced math — eg. calculus, non-linear algebra, advanced statistics and non-differential equations — in order to implement it in the creation of these wonderful technologies. Anyone with a career in:

  • Research science,
  • Engineering,
  • Computer programming,
  • Data management,
  • and anything else related to the STEM field,

have a solid foundation in advanced mathematics.

“Okay, but if I don’t want to be an engineer or a scientist, and there’s all this technology to do math for me, why do I even need to learn so much of it???”

For this, I always have three go-to answers.

1. Just because you don’t think you’ll end up in a career that utilizes advanced math, doesn’t mean you won’t someday change paths.

More people than ever are changing careers later on in life to better themselves and/or to keep up with advancements in technology. So, it is more than likely your future self will benefit from a solid foundation in math.

2. Through learning math, you develop good analytical and reasoning skills.

Being able to identify and understand knowns and unknown, determine appropriate steps to finding a solutions and executing those steps swiftly and decisively is a skill that is cultivated over time through the mathematics curriculums. These make you better at problem-solving, and not just math and school problems, but all manners of personal or work-related problems, such as when you are asked to settle a dispute between two colleagues at work or when you are house-hunting.

3. The more math you learn, the more you appreciate the importance of its existence in the world.

Unless you are a scientist, engineer or something of the like, no, you do not need to actually learn advanced math. But, having an understanding and appreciation for the usefulness and shear presence of advanced math is extremely important. It took linear algebra to build the bridge you drive across every day. It takes advanced statistical analysis to create the weather forecasts and warnings you check every morning. It takes differential calculus in order for you to text your friends. Without learning and understanding the fundamental and intermediate mathematical concepts, it is near on impossible to even conceptualize what advanced math can do for you.

And, if you don’t know what math can do for you, are you really getting the best out of life and the technological world we live in…?

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