What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

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conwy
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What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

Post by conwy »

I'm wondering... what is math actually useful for, to the average human, living in modern times?

Now I'm not talking about how it's good for the species... I think that's without dispute.
I'm also not talking about how necessary it may be academically... if, for some reason, you need a degree, PHD, etc, by all means it's useful.
I'm also not talking about people whose specific occupations demand mathematical ability - e.g. architects, finance, engineers, etc.

I'm talking about your average modern city dweller (most of the human population is urbanised).

Maybe they have a lower-level professional job (e.g. software developer) or a trade job (e.g. construction, mining).

Maybe they have some sort of qualification or maybe just a lot of experience.

Is mathematical ability actually useful to these people (of whom I'm one)?

For purposes of FIRE/ERE, I can see how *very rudimentary* arithmetic and algebra are handy.

Apart from this, I fail to see any real, concrete advantage of familiarity with any more advanced forms of math, whether it's advanced algebra, calculus, statistics, probabilities, sets, categories, graphs or anything else.

Anyone agree/disagree?

CS
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Re: What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

Post by CS »

Very high level math seems to turn into logic--proofs and theorems. Excellent for independent thinking.

tonyedgecombe
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Re: What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

Post by tonyedgecombe »

I wish a few more journalists knew the difference between linear and exponential.

ertyu
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Re: What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

Post by ertyu »

Familiarity with any of these might result in hustlable skills. E.g. with a knowledge of calculus, graphs, and statistics you could teach high school math in international schools, fund travel 2-3 mo/yr, and geoarbitrage. Or you can tutor students, both high school and college. You could make instructional videos. Etcetera.

daylen
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Re: What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

Post by daylen »

After around multivariate calculus + linear algebra + number theory, math transitions from more of a Te-Si exercise to Ti-Ne. In other words, early math (what an engineer needs) is more like following a recipe with approximations, and later math is more like building the most complex yet beautiful house possible with the least amount of unique components.

If you have some innate ability and desire then learning math or physics can help establish a solid conceptual base that can be applied in any context at a high enough level. Without both the ability and desire, you will likely not get far enough (coordination or creation stage) to see how it applies across context.

Riggerjack
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Re: What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

Post by Riggerjack »

I agree with CS. (This was bound to happen, eventually. :lol: ) advanced math is good for development of independent thought. If for no other reason than to recognize where math is being misused for persuasion.

For the average urban drone, whose aspirations are mainly fitting in, advanced math and critical thinking are entirely useless.

But this doesn't mean that those with poor math skills are drones. Many brilliant creative types also suck at math.

But it's hard to find someone who is brilliant at anything, without advanced study of something. For this purpose, math is as good a "something" as any other, and better than most.

So I guess my answer is it depends on whether one's aspirations go beyond just fitting in, and where ones talents lie.

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Bankai
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Re: What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

Post by Bankai »

For 'average human' - only basics to calculate if they've been paid the right amount / if holiday hours add up etc. This is what most people are limited to and they 'manage' perfectly fine ('I'm bad at maths, haha!' is socially acceptable for a reason - almost everyone is).

However, for anyone aspiring to be above average in anything, several mental models can improve thinking and decision making by a lot. Imagine how different the world would be if everyone grasped (and applied!) the following:

Basic logic

Compound interest/72 rule

Regression to the mean

Linear vs exponential

Gaussian distribution

Basics on probabilities/randomness

Understanding charts

Power laws

bostonimproper
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Re: What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

Post by bostonimproper »

About as much as any other area of inquiry. As others have said, some math concepts can give you a different and useful lens for understanding the world. So can a deep knowledge of history, philosophy, human psychology, science, engineering, tactile building skills, etc.

sid3
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Re: What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

Post by sid3 »

I often view math as a language, so maybe you get similar benefits to knowing another language from understanding math.

Tyler9000
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Re: What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

Post by Tyler9000 »

At a high level, the most important part of math is learning how to think in quantifiable terms. That has all kinds of uses for all kinds of people.

  • Deciding whether a loan is a worth the money
  • Selecting an asset allocation
  • Identifying an appropriate withdrawal rate in retirement
  • Calculating the right torque for a nut
  • Interpreting the noise/airflow curve for a new fan for your computer
  • Counting calories
  • Figuring out how to convert ingredient measurements to your available measuring cups
  • Converting currencies on a trip
  • Understanding angles and momentum to win at billiards
  • Using statistics to become a more effective basketball or baseball player

I completely understand questioning whether your average person really needs to understand Laplace transforms or differential equations, but IMO to toss out all math sorta misses the point. Once you think in numbers you see them everywhere, and knowing how to use them makes life so much easier.

Campitor
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Re: What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

Post by Campitor »

How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking

Math is everywhere but it's hidden from casual observation. Mathematical thinking is the most useful tool for solving or preventing the compounding of errors that makes existence a quiet life of desperation.

An apt analogy is that math allows you to see the Matrix - be Neo - see the math. ;)

jacob
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Re: What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

Post by jacob »

Mathematics is useful for communicating(*) abstract concepts in a concise and accurate way that would be impossible to achieve with words only. Numerical illiteracy is therefore a handicap much like verbal illiteracy would be, say, if one's vocabulary consisted of only 2000 words (ESL beginner) instead of 30000 (college graduate) or somewhere in between.

(*) And therefore also useful for thinking about them.

For examples, see pages B-6 to B-9:
https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2014/2014008.pdf
Results on page 11.

Being illiterate or innumerate simply excludes one from a lot of understanding, depth, and nuance. Consider, for example, how difficult it is for some to read the ERE book, why certain politicians speak like 4th graders, or why the average book is dumped down to a 6th grade level---because that's really where the average adult is. And that goes for math too. The lack of comprehension renders whatever concepts somewhat of a dark art requiring either experts to mediate (and guess what you want and then communicate it in a way that you can understand) or entirely missing the finer points.

daylen
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Re: What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

Post by daylen »

We should have a forum competition to see who can explain mathematical concepts the best. Not sure how it would be judged, though.

chenda
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Re: What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

Post by chenda »

I can imagine being illiterate, but it's hard to imagine not having basic maths skills. I wonder how much of numeracy is instinctual rather than taught. Mediaeval peasants with no education whatsoever must still have exercised basic numeracy i.e knowing how many sheep were left in a field after a cull, or how to proportionally divide up food or inherited chattels.

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Bankai
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Re: What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

Post by Bankai »

Inreresting point. I read somewhere that early humans must have been good at estimating numbers for survival ie is this pack of wolfs small enough that we can fight it off or should we leave the pray and escape?

daylen
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Re: What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

Post by daylen »

With no training I would imagine that the vast majority of people would only find the natural numbers intuitive (1, 2, 3, 4..). I think there is even some history of people not accepting zero, negative numbers, and fractions, but with training these concepts seem obvious in retrospect. Imaginary numbers are hard for many people to accept (yet easy to grok) even with training.

sid3
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Re: What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

Post by sid3 »

I was in accounting 1 class two weeks ago working in a group of 4, we were tasked to figure out how much money was left if it was decreased by some percentage. Somehow I was the only one who knew how to do it, and my friend in a different group had the same experience. This lack of ability seems highly debilitating. This occurred at a state university in America.

Peanut
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Re: What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

Post by Peanut »

Winning at poker

Toska2
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Re: What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

Post by Toska2 »

When completing a complex task that takes time, energy, money (aka daily living) I use the concept of math.

If I go for a jog, I jog slightly less than half way out so I can make it back.

If Im making eggs for breakfast I can choose 4 eggs or 5 eggs, it depends if I want 2 eggs left over for brownies.

If I have a pile of lumber I have lots variables. How much waste, what's my skill, how many different projects do I want to do (unique vs production) and space of finished products.

If I mow the yard now I wont have the time to clean up for the movies at 7 pm.

steveo73
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Re: What use is math for the average pleb (outside academia)?

Post by steveo73 »

WR's and portfolio design are to me both areas of study where math (albeit statistics) is extremely useful.

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