Home | Jeremy Côté
Bits, ink, particles, and words.
When learning a new topic, there’s always a certain tension between two approaches: going straight to abstraction, or starting off easier with examples. I see this more and more as I learn about more complex and detailed physics and mathematics, and it has always made me wonder which way I should go about trying to learn. Just like anyone else, I want to get to a place where I feel fully comfortable with the concept in abstraction, but I don’t want to subject myself to a painful learning process by hitting myself against the brick wall of abstraction.
This is going to be a very quick post, but it’s something I wanted to share since I think it could give some insight into a concept that is used to make proofs in mathematics. When writing proofs, it is often difficult to show that your proof holds for every case (say, if you’re trying to show that the square root of two is not capable of being represented by a ratio of integers). Checking every single combination of integer ratios would take an infinite amount of time, so we want to come up with a strategy that is better. To do this, we try to prove our statement by contradiction. The idea is that we negate our conclusion, and from that, we need to show that there is a logical contradiction. Therefore, when we come to a contradiction, we know that our assumption of negating the conclusion was false, so that means our conclusion is true.
As a student, I know what it takes to get good grades. Essentially, you want to be able to reproduce the work that is taught in class during a test. You don’t need to be creative or original in your work. Rather, you simply need to understand the procedures and apply them (for the most part).
I imagine that we do this all the time: you’re talking to someone else about solving a certain equation, and then you tell them something to the effect of, “I had to bring sigma to the other side of the equation.”