Running through the woods

Posted by mouthyb | Posted in | Posted on 4:41 PM

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Yesterday was a bit of a roller coaster. While I am nowhere near failing my statistics course, I am deeply unsatisfied with my understanding, and the person teaching the course is arrogant, humiliates students and makes at least three comments a day about how stupid we are. The highlight came when he handed back exams and noted that in his mind, anything less than an A+ is a waste of his time. I love math, even though my relationship with it is complicated, but I'm fighting not to hate statistics a little because of his teaching, political lectures on stupid liberals, nasty comments about people who use statistics to talk about 'stupid social stuff' and general assholery.

Yesterday, I also took an exam for my other math course. I loved it. I've not had the experience that math tests are something to love; this came as a lovely shock. I finished twelve pages of problems in slightly over thirty minutes, and had time to check the problems I was worried about. As I was scribbling away, I had a moment of vivid metaphor: I felt as if I were lined up at a cross-country race, and that as the runners around my stumbled their way through the course, I kept running into shortcuts through the woods which allowed me to emerge in front of other runners. It was wildly, beautifully exciting. I was the second person to finish, behind the person who left after ten minutes, I assume without finishing the test (there were too many problems in three coordinate sets to finish that early).

I wonder how much of math will be that art, the process of grasping at alternative paths which are partially or totally unseen/unconscious, a tugging at my consciousness as I run though the woods.

I left the classroom wanting to go back and ask for more problems. Today, I picked up a copy of the textbook for the courses I haven't taken yet, opened it, and realized that not only can I translate the equations, even those for non-Euclidean and asymmetric geometry, but I know some of the reasons the equations are phrased the way they are, and what two-dimensional equations they were derived from. I explained to my partner, whose books they are, why the beginning derivative for a probability curve spans negative and positive infinity, but is still the interval from 0-1 in a conventional probability analysis. That calculus explanation, symbols and all, made more sense than the partial explanations given me in the stats class I'm taking.

This moment of elation comes with its own tarry lining. Looking back at even the beginning of the semester, I see myself as shockingly ignorant. How could I have thought that I knew anything before this? How could I call myself educated without this?

I know, of course, that these feelings will die down, but I am truly shocked by the need to know more and the conviction that I know little, and must know more.

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