Wednesday, August 29, 2007

“In mathematics you don’t understand things. You just get used to them.” Johann Von Neuman

I couldn’t get used to Physics in 12th grade. Let’s call a spade a spade, please? Physics is a math class wearing a science team sweatshirt, masquerading as a set of concepts. In reality Physics is another set of formulas containing letters AND numbers, and I’ve kept those at a distance since middle school pre-Algebra. I swear sometimes I’m like Rainman with arithmetic. I can calculate percentages in a flash! This makes people think I’m good with numbers. I suppose that is basically true. I’m “used to” numbers and the basic way they interact. They make sense and don’t defy me. But when they get all theoretical, I’m doomed. I don’t want X to ever represent a number. Angles can kiss it! Don’t get me started on multiplying fractions. You can tattoo a formula on my frontal lobe and I’ll still get the wrong answer. I didn’t get used to math. No, I got used to not using math.

I took the GRE after college graduation, and scored fairly well (by my standards) on the math portion. This was result of a tip I’d read in a GRE prep book and not a secret ability to do trigonometry. Sine? Bah! Cosine? Bleh! Tangent? The only tangents I know are the ones that fly out of my mouth when I’m trying to tell a story. On the GRE (and SAT) the answer choices are always listed in ascending numeric order. Take the 3rd choice and plug it into the formula or equation. If it is correct, bingo! If not, your odds of guessing correctly just astronomically improved. How, you ask? If the 3rd answer is too big, it can’t be the 4th or 5th answer. If it is too small, it can’t be the 1st or 2nd. You’re welcome if one of these tests is in your near future.

Back to high school Physics. Not only was I having trouble getting used to it, I was losing the battle. I needed the science credit to graduate. I had a 3.75 GPA and didn’t want a ‘D’ of any kind on my transcript. So, I dropped out. Dropped right out of Physics and headed to the local Vo-Tech school to get the credit in ‘Physical Science.’ This consisted of visiting the Vo-Tech campus four separate occasions, reading a few chapters, taking the end of chapter quizzes, and passing with an A. Did I give up? Damn right I did. Do I regret it? Never. Taking “Physical Science” allowed me to understand the way Physics works, the “core theories,” without having to prove the theories and concepts myself. I knew then that I wouldn’t ever be a physicist. I was right. I won’t invent a new type of magnet or a better lever. Invention was never a strength for me.

In the fourth grade, my class got the opportunity to participate in a state-wide invention fair. All the students submitted ideas and prototypes. I’ve seen some really amazing things come out of elementary school invention and science fairs. What was my invention, you ask? The Tennis Toe Shoe. This beauty looked like a regular old Keds white lace-up, but hidden beneath the canvas was a reinforced toe block and a flexible arch area. The idea behind the TTS was meeting the needs of on-the-go budding ballerinas who may feel the need to go up on toe whilst waiting for the bus, or to scare away rival gang members. Sometimes you just need to dance. And sometimes you just need to…do ballet? It made perfect sense to me. Nevermind the fact the finished product looked like a smallish water ski or that the floppy arch area made it very difficult to walk pointed OR flexed. I was naively proud of the dance “wave of the future” and felt confident that I had created a winner.

Not only did I not win or even place or even get one of those paltry honorable mention or participant ribbons, I shant forget the looks of bewilderment and pitying chuckles my invention received. Since the fourth grade, then, I’ve made it a point not to get “used to” science, math, or innovation. I suppose it’s possible that I would have felt the lack at some point in my life if it weren’t for the Internet. See, when I’m reading an article in National Geographic that references quantum numbers or thermodynamics, all I need to do is hit up Google, and learn enough to understand the article. I’ve been worming my way around true understanding of these things now for about 20 years. Hey, I never said I was proud.

1 comment:

Retro said...


Here's a question:

How many points can you draw on a piece of flat paper so that they are ALL the same distance from each other?

Let your brain get used to the idea of focusing on symbolic things.