Missable Mysteries of Mathematics 2021-08-22 (Introduction)

By Max Woerner Chase

This is the secret project I've been... teasing is probably the wrong word; it sort of implies I know what I'm doing with regards to promotion. Let's go with "admitting exists". Anyway, welcome to

Missable Mysteries of Mathematics

(Or, The Questions About Mathematics Which Might Not Occur To You)

Which is a new series of posts I'm working on. What's new about it? Well, I intend to have editorial standards rather than just scrawling something at the last minute like a high school student.

The other thing that's new is the subject matter. Rather than liveblogging whatever I'm working on at the time, this is an educational series, about mathematics.

Mathematical education has had a troubled history, at least in the USA, and I'm building up my plan for posts based on a document in my possession, which illustrates that troubledness, even though it doesn't mean to. Problems with mathematical education include lack of engagement, and lack of conceptual relevance. (For example: those of you who have graduated from high school, when was the last time you wrote a two-column proof?)

"The document" reveals a troubled relationship with basic mathematical concepts, and a surface-level knowledge of more advanced ideas. In an effort to offer some antidote to the conditions that led to that state of mind, I'm writing up the Missable Mysteries. A Missable Mystery is a mathematical question with a deep or useful answer, that it might not occur to someone to ask. Additionally, they can be explained without requiring too much up-front knowledge. (I do, however, plan to use earlier lessons to lay the groundwork for later ones.)

For example, the following questions:

  • How does basic arithmetic compare and contrast with shuffling a deck of cards? (deep connection between seemingly different things)
  • How do different physical quantities combine and relate? Given a target measurement and some inputs, what kinds of formulas could plausibly let us get from one to the other? (sanity check for physics calculations at any level of complexity)

The first post, which is shorter than I originally planned, because otherwise I would still be writing it, will go up soon.

See you then!