Sunday, June 8, 2008

ax - by = 1

That title should assure that many people won't read this blog entry (not that many people are reading my blog anyway). Someone somewhere said that for every equation in a published book, readership is lost. My one big disappointment with The Teaching Company lectures is that they try to sell math and science courses without the dreaded equations in the lectures. The lecturer will do everthing but stand on his head to avoid giving out an equation. What's the big problem? I never could understand that.

I could never understand the supposed gap in math scores between girls and boys either. A recent issue of Science magazine (May 30) should put that notion to rest. A study was done that showed that in countries where gender-equal societies are the norm, girls not only close the gap in math scores, but they also do even better than the boys in reading which was supposed to be their strong area anyway.

Th[e] evidence suggests that intra-gender performance differences in reading versus mathematics and in arithmetic versus geometry are not eliminated in a more gender-equal culture. By contrast, girls' underperformance in math relative to boys is eliminated in more gender-equal cultures. In more gender-equal societies, girls perform as well as boys in mathematics and much better than them in reading.

So the gender gap in geometry (where boys have the advantage) and arithmetic (where girls do better) does not change, but the overall performance of girls is improved if they live in a society that values their brains. Gee, geometry was my favorite subject.

Recently I have become immersed in two new Teaching Company lecture series. One is An Introduction to Number Theory, taught by Edward B. Burger in which he actually uses equations but keeps assuring us that we need not get into a panic over them. The other is a fantastic series on Dark Matter, Dark Energy: The Dark Side of the Universe taught by Sean Carroll of Cal Tech. This one is a winner. Professor Carroll speaks clearly, but rapidly, and non-stop. He is not reading from a prompter and only occasionally glances at his notes. He really knows his stuff. And he is not afraid to give us the nitty-gritty. Although he does not go into the details of Einstein's equation of general relativity or the Friedmann Equation which is the application of general relativity to a rapidly expanding universe, he does give the equations and explains what each term means.

I am learning all kinds of new stuff and understanding it better than when I read books by people like Brian Greene and even Stephen Hawking. But then I believe in the spiral theory of learning. You go round and round, repeating the same material over and over that you learned before, but each time at a much higher level. I'd like to tackle a book with all the gory equations included next to see if I can follow it.

P.S. These courses were on sale when I bought them. If they are no longer on sale, just wait. At some point during the year they will be back on sale.


  1. Wow, you learned general relativity? I only had to learn special relativity to get my PhD in chemical physics. That's all I took.

  2. Apple is now offering lectures to your ipod.


  3. MMK: Thanks for the tip for finding more lectures. I'll check it out.

    badmomgoodmom: I taught myself general relativity. Like you, I learned only special relativity in class. I have at least half a dozen books on the subject of general relativity but in order to understand them, I also had to teach myself the math, so more books...

  4. I've subscribed to your blog for a long time now, but I don't think I've ever commented. I enjoy your love for live and learning. You inspire me.