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I'm a rather intelligent guy. I work in the JAG corps in the Army and can tell you a lot about Army law. I can write a brilliant interpretive analysis of a book any day. I'm the "go-to guy" for any computer troubleshooting.

However, I have recently started college for Information Technology. Having a Computer Science professor made me realize that I am ENTIRELY ignorant to math. He has boggled my mind with fractals, Bayes' Theorem, and calculus. Which would all be fine, if I could see a PURPOSE. I may not understand advanced principles of physics, but I see the purpose of it clearly: to describe patterns of motion and light and such.

But the kinds of things that my Computer Science professor has been mentioning make me feel completely dumb. I don't have the slightest clue about the purpose of the the kind of math he has been blowing my mind with, so I just can't wrap my head around it. So is there anyone who can just answer... WHY?

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closed as not a real question by t.b., Guess who it is., Andres Caicedo, Ryan Budney, Mariano Suárez-Alvarez Apr 18 '11 at 23:39

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Chill out, it's just for fun. –  Raskolnikov Apr 18 '11 at 23:11
@Taylor: Your question would resonate more with people here (and you would likely get a better answer) if you were more specific. Try changing the Title and some of the text to a more specific question like "what is a real-world application of Bayes' Theorem" for example. –  Fixee Apr 18 '11 at 23:12
Thanks for your specific help, guys :) Maybe I'll try to reopen it with more specifics, but it's very difficult when I'm struggling to even understand what I am asking. –  Taylor Apr 19 '11 at 0:58
What purpose does closing this thread have? it just stops better answers being posted which leads to frstrated people using arguments from authority to tell you that your answers are wrong? –  quanta Apr 19 '11 at 1:23
I highly recommend Mathematics: a very short introduction by Gowers. The book is aimed at someone like you (intelligent, willing to put some effort, but w/ a minimal or largely forgotten math background), but is a brilliant explanation of mathematics. Heck, I recommend it to everyone who is willing to put in a little bit of thought. –  Sam Lisi Apr 19 '11 at 9:25

2 Answers 2

The first thing to know is that most Comp Sci departments were born out of Mathematics Departments. They are deeply related even more than most forms of engineering.

The second thing to know is that in an abstract sense, Computer Science is considered to be a branch of Mathematics. Most of the math that is actually useful to computer science isn't the normal math you are used to from high school either. Calculus isn't really that useful for Computer Science in the end as compared to discrete math. A bunch of the math you will be doing for a comp sci degree is actually fairly abstract and new in the grand scheme of things.

Most colleges have a course like this one for a reason:


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At Imperial (the UK/European equivalent of MIT/CalTECH), we have a course like that called Information Systems Engineering (ISE). A lot less abstract than straight computing because of the hardware element. There's also the other end of the scale Joint Maths & Computing (JMC). Note that maths is the only subject requirement on entry, Computing for the most part is a branch of maths. –  Orbling Apr 19 '11 at 0:31

Like life it is completely meaningless and has no purpose. You can invent your own purpose - that is the only way there will be one. Here are some options:

  • A lot of mathematics happens to be really useful. Some people are using certain ares of mathematics like geometry and calculus as one of their tools in understanding reality (for example physicists and biologists). I think that a lot of people who try to explain why mathematics is beautiful go on about how it is a useful tool but that seems distracting to me.

  • You can just learn about how beautiful prime numbers are. A prime number is a number that you can't make a rectangle out of that many dots (e.g. you can make a 3x2 rectangle out of 6 dots but you cant make any rectangle out of 7 dots - only a line). So at first they seem awkward but try list them all and you notice they never end.. and you can get sucked into this theory and just admire the beauty of everything.

  • Games are fun and challenging, you can get better and better at beating puzzles and so on. Mathematics is a better source of puzzles than the newspapers. Think about Martin Gardner's puzzle: How many cannon balls can you stack in a square pyramid but also lay out in a square? 1^2 + 2^2 + ... + 24^2 = 70^2 is the only possible number. Why on earth would that be?

Anyway there's no purpose to it so my advice is enjoy the actual process of doing it or do something else. If you have a particular interest like beauty or fun or whatever you might think of you can post more questions about those and I'm sure people will be able to give better examples than I did.

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The question is too broad. A question about the point of any of the individual topics the OP brought up would be fine. –  Qiaochu Yuan Apr 19 '11 at 0:32
What @Qiaochu said. Besides, you are just expressing personal opinions (and pretty categorical ones at that, most certainly not possessing enough personal experience with mathematics to warrant such sweeping statements). Then be prepared that people might disagree with them. –  Alex B. Apr 19 '11 at 0:43
@Alex, I don't appreciate that comment since you're basically saying "You don't know enough mathematics to be allowed to have an opinion on this" –  quanta Apr 19 '11 at 1:13
@quanta Please read my comment again. You asked why your answer was downvoted. I told you: because it is just a personal opinion that people may or may not agree with. If you can't handle that, don't express personal opinions. If you can't handle (or "don't appreciate") answers to "why downvote", then don't ask. I am not going to say any more on this. –  Alex B. Apr 19 '11 at 1:36
@Alex, I don't appreciate comments of the form "You're wrong because you don't know as much maths as me". If you really think that I said something wrong provide an argument rather than using authority to try and make me give. –  quanta Apr 19 '11 at 1:38

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