Our Fear of Being Lost Devalues The Beauty of Mathematics

The Adventures of a Lost Bugs Bunny

Today I dropped my daughter off at sleepover at her friend’s house. It’s about 10 minutes away, and I had never been there. I Googled the address, stared at the map, and away I went. No GPS. Sure enough, once I got in the subdivision, I was a little lost. My daughter was impressed that I even got this far without using a GPS. I pulled over, and Googled the address again. Not bad. I was only a minute away from the correct street…

As a kid, I used to stare at maps all the time. I was fascinated by their detail — all the highways, road, cities, towns, hamlets, lakes, etc. I don’t use a GPS because I have some aversion to technology. Quite the opposite, and it’s probably a reason why I veer away from this device.

When I got back home, I went back at writing my next book, “Chasing Rabbits: A Curious Guide to a Lifetime of Mathematical Wellness”. One of the predominant themes in the book will be getting lost. It is actually the subtitle of The Introduction.

I then found this short, but beautiful article that speaks to the romance of adventure/unknown we lose when we don’t get lost anymore.

Here is a key excerpt from that blog.

We know where we are just about all the time now. Even worse, we think we SHOULD know where we are all the time. So, being lost feels like a real problem when it happens.

That kind of demanded efficiency, demanded certainty, and demanded correctness is a completely false representation of mathematics. There is little oxygen for confusion, doubt, retreat, re-planning, retooling, etc. Learning becomes its own algorithm of scaffolding curriculum. It’s like a guided tour, following arrows, and hanging on to ropes.

Doing mathematics like this deprives students of, well, let’s be honest, mathematics itself. And when society removes our idea of being lost, that every wrong turn needs an apology, some of the color of being human fades away. We need to get to the answer faster. We need to move on. No time to stumble around rabbit holes. There is a curriculum to cover.

Our learning feels mechanized, choreographed, and all planned out. So much of the wonder of life, learning, and mathematics resides in the interstitial spaces that have been discarded for economizing our time — and purpose.

Just over a year from now, you will be able to see with more detail about all that is lost in mathematics, and that the bounty of wellness resides not-so- oddly in stumbling onto its unmarked and unspoiled trails…

Author of Pi of Life: The Hidden Happiness of Mathematics and Co-Author of Math Recess: Playful Learning in the Age of Disruption. Speaker. Amplify and Mathigon