Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Math and Words

Apparently it is quite common (at least among Melissa Summers' readers) to be good with words and bad with numbers. Somehow this translates into being good at geometry and bad with other math. Wha??? Not in my world.

I was a voracious reader. I baffled my just-out-of-college 1st grade teacher by finishing our reading book. It was a go at your own pace set-up and when I finished she didn't know what to do with me. I clearly remember her giving me her teacher's edition to read (ooh! red notes printed in the margins!) and running out of the room. I learned later that she went to the principal who decided it was time for a parent meeting. Somehow between my mom and the 2 of them it was decided that I could go to the library at reading time and could read anything, just as long as I was reading. It was awfully freeing! Also, my mom signed me up for the Weekly Reader Book Club. It's now defunct so don't bother Googling. It was bought up by Scholastic I think and now it's totally different.

So, obviously, I am a friend of words.

I also adored math. As part of my word-love we would go to the public library every week and I could check out 2 books. In 2nd grade I found a book on fractions and I loved it so much I had to check it out. My mom tried to convince me to get a book that had some kind of story to it, but I was adamant -- besides, the other book I was checking out was a story. The reason I loved this book, whose title I can't remember for the life of me, is because I came across an illustration as I was thumbing through it that showed number lines and discussed infinity along with fractions. They were showing that all the fractions exist between 0 and 1, then again between 1 and 2, and I think they even showed that negative fractions exist to the left of 0. I had an epiphany (as in "An inspired understanding arising from connecting with profound insight, awareness, or enlightened truth") when I realized that each time I had counted "One, two, buckle my shoe" I had hopped right over infinity. The idea that you could always add 1 to a number and get a bigger one is something that made sense to me. But to think that you could always add 1 to a denominator (1/2, 1/3, 1/4...) and get a smaller number, forever and ever without end was the first time that I sensed God. I felt like a beam of light from the heavens shone down on that little illustration and it was all clear.

I think that is not only why I like numbers, but why I fail to see how science and religion could possible be at odds. How else could the beauty of numbers and math exist? It seems obvious to me that it is not some haphazard accident, but an intentional plan.

Anyway, the reason I mention it at all is to show how deeply I felt my love for both words and numbers. Math class after math class came and went and I felt as if things I was being taught were obvious. Like if I had only bothered to think about it before I would have seen how true it is that 4/5ths of 25 is 20. (Actually I just made that up on the spot. It was more advanced math than that, I just can't remember any specific examples.) Then in 9th grade I met Geometry. What the heck was that crap? Where were my numbers and letters from glorious Algebra? I actually had to have the friend that I had tutored all through Algebra I tutor me in Geometry. She now thought that the things I was struggling with were completely obvious. The tables had completely turned. Thank goodness it was only that year and the next year I was back to Algebra II!

In reading all the comments on Melissa's post today made me wonder if my whole "there are Algebra people and Geometry people" theory -- similar to Cat people and Dog people -- was wrong. Or at least if I had somehow fallen into the wrong category with all the non-word-lovers. Weird.


  1. I think that there really is a mathmatical language and symmetry and design in the universe.
    And music. It's all connected.
    But really?
    You're a freak of nature.
    Who loves words and numbers equally?

  2. I would like to restate my befuddlement that you chose to major in hand waving instead of hardcore number-thumping. (That sounds terribly hot btw.)

    I learned a lot from that first youtube link. 15 mins well spent.

  3. I think that you are very lucky :-) I was always taking AP English courses and remedial math lol! I'm actually numerically dyslexic, so Algebra was quite the challenge since my brain was turning 3s into Bs and as into 4s. . .soooo glad higher math isn't an actual life skill.

  4. I must be weird, then.

    Words to me have sounds, which have numeric equivalents (hello, chords!) And I hear them all, numbers and sounds and words, in symphony.

    And I love it.

    And I never thought about it before! Thank you.


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