Can The Worlds of Math and Literature Exist in Harmony?

Rounding up! Easy peasy.

This sounds like a boring subject but I promise to try and keep your attention. In order to help you better understand my own relationship with math, let’s just say that simply toting up the tip for my lunch order is generally beyond my capability. Consequently, and because I worked as a carhop and waitress in high school, I always lean toward excessive and generous rounded-up tipping just to be fair and on the safe side. That approach never worked in math class.

When I entered Grade 12 in September 1964, I was assigned the most terrifying math teacher that ever existed. Even thinking about her sixty years later makes me tremble. She was prone to fierce outbursts of temper which frequently involved throwing things, screaming, slamming her yardstick on students’ desks and even hitting students.  Yikes! Imagine teachers getting away with that today!

I have still not recovered from the wrath of Miss Y.

Two weeks into the start of school Miss Y (they were called Miss back in the olden days before all this gender neutrality) administered an algebra test. Bear in mind, I’m a right-brain thinker—math, physics, chemistry and the like are extremely difficult for me, if not impossible. When the results of this algebra test were announced, she reassigned our seating order putting the students with the lowest marks at the front of the class, working back with students with the highest marks earning coveted distant positions at the back.

As a result of this test I was positioned front and centre. Tragically for me, she never changed the seating again and I was planted there for the rest of the school year, terrified, shaking, and ducking flying objects. I have never forgotten that experience and those boomers I went to high school with will know exactly who I’m talking about.

On the other hand, my English classes were easy and enjoyable. Our English teachers were shockingly uninspired and uninspiring back then, but my natural aptitude and love of the written word allowed me to breeze through with little stress or worry. Different aptitude. Different outcome.

A recent article by mathematician Sarah Hart The Hidden Connections Between Math and Literature in The New York Times suggested that the beauty of math can be as deep and lyrical as that of good literature. Well! It was a tough read for this old right-brained boomer, but for your sake, I forced myself to get through the entire piece so I could comprehend what on earth she was suggesting.

It turned out to be a very complicated theory outlined in fine print which I found nearly impossible to decipher. The bottom line probably makes sense to someone who can wade through the logic but I am not one of those people. Click the above link if you think you are.

With respect to the question of whether the math and literature worlds have common denominators (get it?) we could look at Albert Einstein. He loved playing the violin and found it helped broaden his thought processes. Who am I to argue with such a magnificent brain? Unfortunately, my brain is far from magnificent and does not work that way.

There are now machines that do this for people like me.

Maybe Sarah Hart, Einstein and all those other left-brainers know something I don’t. Or maybe I know something they don’t. What I do know for sure it that I will never understand or develop a yearning to solve math equations for fun no matter what evidence the scientific world comes up with. My brain is just not wired that way, and I hate it.

Thank goodness most restaurants now include tip options when you swipe your card so I don’t have to do a mental calculation. When confronted with numbers, my eyes glaze over and I feel faint. Ask me to write an essay and I feel joyous.

I can understand math whizzes getting off on solving problems and understanding difficult equations. It gives them a natural buzz. The world needs and appreciates scientists, engineers, and people with logical minds like that. That’s their bag. Mine is reading, writing, and words in general. We also need authors, writers, artists, and abstract thinkers which is why arts and literature degrees should not be underestimated. While we should strive to work both sides of our brains, never the twain shall meet in my world. Do you believe in the theory of math and literature happily intersecting? Or, are you strongly on one side like me—the right side?



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Deborah Rennie
Deborah Rennie
4 months ago

Imagine a right brainer in school becoming a banker. Thank god for calculators and eventually computers or my career might have ended rather quickly.

4 months ago

Loved this Lynda! It is ME ( or it is I?) haha. One of the perks of aging is to stop apologizing for what we are NOT and to celebrate what we ARE. As always I love your style of writing and your wit. You go girl!