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Does math have to be useful to be worthwhile?

Posted: March 27th, 2014, 1:47 am
by Philosophy Explorer
It's well known that math has many uses as an aid to science. Some examples are calculus, differential equations, statistics and even math itself if you count math as a science.

What do you think of recreational math? Is it worthwhile? A noted mathematician named Leonhard Euler explored the Konisberg bridges puzzle. The solution led to graph theory and topology, an important branch of math. Euler and Fermat also explored magic squares (which are the basis of Sudoku puzzles which populate supermarket shelves).

Another noted mathematician, GH Hardy, said he hoped that math will never be useful (although parts of it are quite useful so I wonder if he was misquoted).

What are your thoughts on this?

PhilX

Re: Does math have to be useful to be worthwhile?

Posted: March 28th, 2014, 8:20 am
by TheBob
Mathematics is a lot like philosophy. Whenever I talk about it with a group of uninitiated friends, I get blank stares and someone quickly changes the subject. But on a serious level, mathematics is commonly known for its use in everyday life such as addition in paying bills, much like how philosophy is known for applied ethical theories, such as altruism. But both have deep theoretical sides that are hard to realize in everyday situations but are (or rather, I consider) very good personal development tools. When I debate the limits of reason, and the philosophy of linguistic history, it is hard to justify in everyday practical terms, but it is beneficial to my well-being in many other important (to me) ways. Whether or not something is worthwhile is very much a subjective value call, although there is evidence that mathematics can improve your cognitive abilities (although I'm inclined to think any activity other than passive entertainment can improve your mind). Engaging in even simple arithmetic for personal pleasure is a good confidence builder on its own. You have a problem, then you solve it. When you are facing problems in life that seem insurmountable, having a problem you can solve and knowing you can solve it can perhaps give you the confidence for harder ones in other situations.

Re: Does math have to be useful to be worthwhile?

Posted: March 28th, 2014, 1:31 pm
by The Mind of MH
If by useful you mean having some measurable impact on the betterment of society, I would argue that no, math does not have to be useful to be worthwhile. If math is considered a type of language to express a unique type of meme, then even the math that is useless can still have meaning, as it serves to transfer ideas from one person to another or describe an individuals observations to themselves.

-TMOMH

Re: Does math have to be useful to be worthwhile?

Posted: October 9th, 2016, 5:50 am
by Anthony Edgar
I think usefulness is an good indicator of truth. If any mathematical or scientific theory is false, it ain't gunna be no use coz it don't work.

Re: Does math have to be useful to be worthwhile?

Posted: October 21st, 2016, 7:41 am
by gimal
Mathematics is just a puzzle game its usefulness is just by pure chance read.
MATHEMATICS ENDS IN MEANINGLESSNESS
gamahucherpress.yellowgum.com/wp-conten ... MATICS.pdf
(Mathematics will become to be seen as just an artificial man made game an elaborate puzzle game used to exercise the left hemisphere of the brain-with some lucky/fluky applications to the real world. A puzzle game that is made to be consistent with certain rules that are made to make mathematics consistent – and when an inconsistency is found new ad hoc rules-like the axiom of separation- are made to ban the problem and make mathematics consistent again Mathematics will become to be seen as just an artificial man made game an elaborate puzzle game)

Re: Does math have to be useful to be worthwhile?

Posted: October 21st, 2016, 8:13 am
by TSBU
What is the difference between useful and worthwhile?

Re: Does math have to be useful to be worthwhile?

Posted: October 21st, 2016, 8:30 am
by Dolphin42
Not much difference. But if there is one, I'd say that "worthwhile" is slightly more of a value judgement than "useful". Saying that a tool or activity is useful simply states, as a matter of fact, that it facilitates the achievement of a pre-existing goal. Saying that an activity is worthwhile often seems to be a judgement of its innate merits.

Re: Does math have to be useful to be worthwhile?

Posted: October 22nd, 2016, 11:14 am
by The Dark Wanderer
If something does not have any practical or leisurely application, then I see no point in pursuing it.

Re: Does math have to be useful to be worthwhile?

Posted: November 2nd, 2018, 6:07 pm
by Frewah
Math can be recreationsl for sure. Euler managed to show that 26 is the only number squeezed between a square and a cube. Five squared is 25 and three cubed is 27. Finding the proof is recreational. There’s even an entry in wikipedia https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recreat ... athematics

Many people find sudoku recreational.

Re: Does math have to be useful to be worthwhile?

Posted: November 5th, 2018, 3:07 am
by jlaugh
Addition, subtraction, and other similar operations do not represent the crux of mathematical inquiry or knowledge. They are arithmetic processes, and arithmetic processes are not the essence of mathematics, but just one small part. So, while we say that we use addition, subtraction, etc. on a daily basis, we only mean that we use arithmetic consistently, not mathematics.

Therefore, it is essential to differentiate between mathematics and arithmetic. Mathematics is more like a language; it also involves much intuition and a very strong ability to analyze, synthesize, and extrapolate. Serious mathematics is much like great literature. Their usefulness cannot be defined. They enrich the human experience in myriad ways, and different people draw different things from mathematics and literature. In this sense, mathematics is certainly useful (it enriches the lives of those who practice it seriously). Arithmetic, on the other hand, is ubiquitous and provides more tangible outcomes.

Re: Does math have to be useful to be worthwhile?

Posted: November 11th, 2018, 4:14 pm
by Eduk
No. Math does not have to be useful to be worthwhile.

Re: Does math have to be useful to be worthwhile?

Posted: April 29th, 2019, 11:47 am
by Kevin Levites
Anthony Edgar wrote:
October 9th, 2016, 5:50 am
I think usefulness is an good indicator of truth. If any mathematical or scientific theory is false, it ain't gunna be no use coz it don't work.
I must disagree with you here.

Just because a kind of math may not be useful now doesn't mean that it won't be useful in the future, or give someone a leg up on the competition when new things are discovered.

As an example, consider one of the sexiest, most beautiful woman who ever lived....the silver screen actress Hedy LaMarre.

She was the first actress to depict the female orgasm in a non-pornographic film, she acted alongside the greatest film stars of that era, and was loved by millions.

Yet--as her hobby--she was a kind of electronics Leonardo da Vinci who formulated the theoretical underpinnings of Bluetooth and cellphone radio transmissions.

As another example, consider that the Nazis were executing Operation Wolfpack in the Atlantic, where their submarines were using a kind of radio-controlled torpedo to attack boats that were bringing supplies to Britain.

LaMarre invented a kind of jamming device--based on the player piano--that would have disabled these torpedos.

Her device was impractical at the time, but was used in it's original form 20 years later during the naval blockade of Cuba during the Cuban missle crisis. This was a good thing, as the Soviets had torpedos armed with nuclear warheads.

So, my point is that many of LaMarre's mathematics and inventions weren't useful at the time, but became useful much later when the technology advanced to a certian level.

I think it speaks to LaMarre's genius that she was several decades ahead of her time, and she had--get this--little or no formal college education in electronics or mathematics.

It makes me wonder how much genius has been stifled and smothered--snuffed out, if you will--by experts ignoring people outside their fields, who might have provided a fresh insight into problems that "everyone knew" were unsolvable.

Re: Does math have to be useful to be worthwhile?

Posted: May 2nd, 2019, 11:53 am
by Steve3007
I just want to say, that is a very interesting revelation about Hedy LaMarre. I wasn't aware of it. I only really knew of her existence via the reference to her in the film Blazing Saddles.

Re: Does math have to be useful to be worthwhile?

Posted: May 2nd, 2019, 12:06 pm
by Steve3007
On the central point of the topic: It depends what you mean by "useful". That word could be defined such that maths is, by definition, useful if anyone subjectively considers it to be worthwhile. The pleasure of a single mathematician could be seen as a form of utility.

But a more common, narrower definition of the usefulness of mathematics is that it can be applied to predictions of our future physical sensations. In that case, as has already been said, we can never know when a piece of mathematics might turn out to be useful in the future. Since to be valid any piece of mathematics must be logically consistent with the rest of mathematics, we might say that if the physically perceived universe is itself logically consistent (as it so far seems to be) then any valid piece of mathematics will inevitably turn out to be useful at some point in the future. Maybe?