Yet another weird SF fan


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Yet another weird SF fan
 

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Real Life vs. Calculus?

According to Arnold Kling:

The Obama Administration is being populated with outstanding academics, like Larry Summers and Cass Sunstein. It is not surprising that the academic world is expressing a lot of confidence in giving them huge amounts of power. These are people who are more than three standard deviations higher in IQ than average, but I still suspect that this leaves them more than three standard deviations below what would be needed to justify giving these technocrats $10,000 from every household in America to spend at the their discretion (I'm adding the remainder of the TARP to the stimulus, since it is getting harder and harder to distinguish the two concepts from one another). The folks working on the stimulus package are not people who have spent time in middle management in a large organization, where you see how life differs from a calculus problem or a term paper.
Speaking as a mathematician, I can tell you that, not only does real life not resemble calculus problems, but calculus problems don't resemble calculus problems. That is, mathematical problems that are studied because they're interesting don't resemble the artificially-simple problems fed to college students.

For example, when I was a college freshman, I figured that deriving a closed-form expression for the length of arc of a circle was simple. I then figured that deriving a similar expression for the length of arc of an ellipse should be within reach. It turned out to be a bit more complicated than that. (Actually, I covered several sheets of paper with increasingly-complex formulas before I gave up and realized that there was far more to the problem than I had thought.)

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