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I don’t think that I’ve ever had full access to my mathematical abilities. Struggling with math, I was behind developmentally from other children. I had issues associated with dyscalculia. Such as an inability to read an analog clock or make change. I was overly attentive to numbers. It was very difficult to see and recognize them as symbols. I just couldn’t wrap my head around multiplication. My fourth grade teacher held me back so that I could figure it all out. I was lucky.
Since then, I have gotten through some of the undergraduate mathematical curriculum, taking courses like multivariable calculus. My progress is slower and more deliberate than my peers.
Jo Boaler, a Stanford professor and maths advocate, says:
For Boaler, the test — with its focus on speed, volume and performance — is a big part of why math crushes spirits like no other subject. To her, it represents shallow learning with debilitating consequences. Students who work slowly are often left convinced of their own inability, although they may be the deeper kind of thinkers who make the best mathematicians.
This rings true for me, as someone who was always behind trying to make up time when it came to mathematics. I have thought my ability mired in the mud. There yet somehow hidden from my reach.
The Metaphor of the Locked Box
I visualize my mathematical ability as a locked box. Like a treasure chest you may come across in a dungeon crawl. It’s made of wood with gold gilding on it and a giant padlock. The key is nowhere to be found, as if vanished into thin air. You could certainly crawl through the manifolds of my brain, all those wrinkles, and never find it.
So, I muddle through math, by essentially working in the dark. Certainly, I have some talent and ability to come as far as I have. Though, I have no real sense of the extent of my skills. I sometimes worry that my ability comes down to rote memorization. Information comes into the box, gets worked on, and then becomes an output. I don’t really see what is happening inside.
But, sometimes I surprise myself! Like when I played Set for the first time with a friend. We never got to a second game because I won by so much the first time! I’ll be the first to admit that I am highly attuned to my emotions but I also have a mind for logic.
Finding the Key in Math Dreams
Mathematics gives me a feeling of being uninhibited. It’s a freedom like no other. Free from constraint or stress. When I discuss math and physics with others, I have a sense of well being and joy. What is interesting about all of this is, I sometimes daydream or have lucid dreams about mathematics.
I remember my first of my math dreams all the way back in the 90’s. Staying with my mother in San Diego, I dreamed that I saw what looked like an ink blot. Quite a bit like a beetle with these ragged edges. I started moving toward those edges. Moving through three dimensional space. Patterns changed, morphed, and repeated. You may now recognize what I saw. I didn’t have a clue what that was as a teenager. I had not yet been exposed to serious mathematics. Only the subjects that I was learning in school.
The next morning, for the first time, I saw the Mandelbrot Set. It was in a documentary showing the same pattern which I had dreamt of just the night before.
Something like this:
Moving Beyond Math Dreams
It appears to me, that the way to open that locked box, is to slip into a math dream. I wish I could articulate those dreams, not in words, but in proofs. This is another reason why I want to go back to school and attain a BS in Mathematics. Perhaps, followed by an MS in Statistics. It would be good enough for me to learn a little number theory on the way.
That was only the first dream. I’ve had many more since then. I’ve found that I can trigger them by watching or reading information on the Riemann Hypothesis and Zeta. I think this is another reason why my math dreams are so precious. They connect me with the work of G.H Hardy and his student Ramanujan.
What We See in Dreams
Srinivasa Ramanujan was a brilliant mathematician. I am in no means equating myself with his talents. We do share something in common though. Math dreams.
I had felt weird about my math dreams all my life. This is because I was person who loved mathematics who was rejected by others because of that love. The day would never come that I would share these visions with others. I didn’t want to share things that would separate me from people. Then I read The Man Who Knew Infinity.
The film is very similar to the book. It doesn’t go into as much detail about Ramanujan’s life but there is still a lot there. It’s like the cliffnotes. I am only mentioning the visions he received and believed came from the goddess Namagiri. She would send him mathematics in dreams which, he would write down in the morning. For Ramanujan, mathematics was an expression of his religion.
I don’t see my dreams that way. There is something transcendental about them. Things which are meta attract me and that fits mathematics to a tee. It is the language of universal truths. The nature of our reality as it exists, not as we perceive it. I am grateful to receive these glimpses into the deeper meaning beyond our everyday life. When you begin to see math everywhere, the world becomes extraordinary.
“Sir, an equation has no meaning for me unless it expresses a thought of GOD.” —Srinivasa Ramanujan