A Token of Entry

Why is mathematics so inaccessible? Seems kinda… unnecessary 🤔

We should probably clean up all the mess before we point folks in that direction.

From Michael J. Barany’s review of Infinite Powers (Strogatz):

WAIT! COME BACK! The word ‘calculus‘ is enough to send many people running, and for good reason. Calculus is based on a paradoxical way of thinking. Its intimidating alchemy of symbols underwrites dauntingly complex concoctions of science and engineering. Because of its difficulty, calculus is often a gateway to elite colleges and professions, and so a form of cultural capital even for those who never use it directly.


“A broader account of the power of calculus must contend with other kinds of power in history: the power of educational systems to shape citizens and nations, of states and markets to allocate authority and resources, of imagination and conviction to challenge or define what is obvious, right, or natural. These kinds of power can explain how calculus became a gateway to other kinds of knowledge and action. They explain how calculus has sorted people as much as it has sorted the natural world, shaping opportunities for those who use it regularly or not at all. They help us grapple with the fact that calculus remains as distant and mystifying and elitist as ever to large segments of society, who by virtue of gender, class, race, location, luck, and circumstance are not enabled or expected to pursue the hard road to calculus mastery.


“We can see the power of calculus in the panoply of domains where its principles have displaced, supplemented, or enabled theories and applications, and we can understand that this power has been hard-won. Part of its success has been how its skilled users have learned to regard it as ordinary, natural, and fundamental. Overlooking the systemic social roots and consequences of the power of calculus is part and parcel of its success, and Infinite Powers is a masterful lesson in how that is done.”


By the way, there’s no rush to learn infinitesimals. If you’re doing science and engineering, use calculus. But if you’re just monitoring systems, simple trendlines and averages will do just fine for everything you need to know. The calculus of throughput and system health will be a next gen thing, at least in my corner of industry.

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