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Whydopeoplefindmathematicsdifficult?
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Somegeneralthemesfromtheanswersbelow...
1.Mathematicsisnotdifficult:Mathematicsisnomoredifficultthanotherfields.Cooking
isdifficult.Balletisdifficult.However#2...
2.Yourlackofability"hitsyouintheface":Peoplefindmathematicsdifficultbecauseit
iseasiertorealisethatitisdifficult.Withotherdifficulttasksitiseasiertofoolone'sself
intobelievingthatoneisgoodatsaidtask,butthisdoesn'tworkwithmathematics.If
you'rebadatmathematicsitwillshowyoujusthowbadyouare.

Ismathdifficult?
Whyismathdifficult?
Whataresomegood,difficultmathematicsquestion
websites?
Howdifficultisappliedmathematicsathighschool
comparedtomathematicsandphysics?
Mathematicsisconsideredbymanystudentstobea
verydifficultsubjectinschool.Howcanteachers
makemathaninterestingsubject?
Whoaresomewomeninmathematicsmostpeople
donotknowabout,butshould?Why?
WhyareMathematicsandPhysicsinherently'difficult'
subjects?
Whymathematicsisdifficultsubject?
Isengineeringmathsdifficult?
Whataresomerealworldapplicationsof
mathematics?(Thatareusefultomostpeople)
MoreRelatedQuestions

QuestionStats
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3.Mathematicsnotanoption:Studentsaretaughtmathematicsregardlessofinterest,
andeveryoneisexpectedtolearnittosomedegree.Ifonehadnointerestinballetandit

LastAskedMay16
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weremadecompulsory,wemayfindthatfewhavethetalentforit.
4.Poorpedagogy:Mathematicsistaughtbadly.Schoolmathematicsisoftenfarremoved
fromwhatprofessionalmathematiciansdo.Thesyllabusexpectsstudentstocommitto
rotelearningoradherencetomethodologywhichkillsthecreativityandimaginationthat
isatthecoreofthefield.Thisalsoleadstostudentshatingthesubjectwhichfurther
compoundstheproblem.
5.Lockhart'sLament :#3and#4aretwocentralthemesin"AMathematician'sLament"
byPaulLockhart's.Thisiswortharead.
6.StrongDependencies:Topicsbuildonothertopicsandthisdependencyissostrong
that,withoutthenecessarybackground,themoreadvancedtopicsareunintelligible.
7.CulturalBias:Mathematicsseemsdifficultbecausewearetoldtoexpectittobe
difficult.
8.Mathematicsisdifficult:Mathematicsisinherentlydifficultbecauseitisabstract,and
animals(includinghumans)evolvedtosolveconcrete problems.Humansfind
abstractproblemsdifficult.Itisalsodifficultbecauseonecannotcouchanideain
floweryproseandexpecttoaweonlookers.Onemustsolveactualproblemsorprove
theorems,andthesehavedefiniteresults.

92Answers
SiddharthBhattacharya,Mathematicsmajor
36kViews

Peoplefindmathsdifficultbecauseitisinherentlydifficult.Orthetimeto
realizeonedoesn'tunderstandMathismuchlesserthananyotherdiscipline.
I'vegraduatedwithdegreeinMathematics&Computingalongsidecompletingvarious
coursesinhumanitieseconomics,literature,sociology.NeverthelessI'dprefer
encounteringanewtopic/academicworkinthelatterforoneinmathsrequiresmuch
moreenduranceandstruggle.Why?BecauseMathematicsistoodifficulttorelate
to.(Imeanadvancedmathematics,notbasicarithmetic)Comparingtoasubjectlike
music,history,literaturewetendtohavesomeideasoropinionsregardingthem.
Althoughitmaybiasourreading,iteasesaswellforithelpsinassociation.Contrarily

Edits

whenwesitwithMaths,we'redealingwithsomethingentirelynewwhosepractical
implicationsinourdailylifearehardtoimagine.Ifwedrawahierarchytree,Maths
wouldsitatopasit'sconceptsgetusedin'appliedfields'.Thefartheranythingmovesfrom
reality,themoredifficultitbecomestocomprehend.
Evenafterstudyingadvancedmathsfor5years,I'dstruggletodefinetopology,whileIcan
voiceopinionsonstateoflaw,eventsinhistoryandimplications,intentofwritersthrough
protagonistsprimarilyduetothesubjectivenatureofthesesubjects.IfIstate"World
War2waswonbyGermany"thenIamwrong,butanyfurtherdiscussionsonthetopic
"WasUSrightinbombingJapan?"toeventhemostextremequestionconsidered"Was
Hitlerdoingtherightthing"canhavediverseopinions.Althoughtheseviewsmaybe
kiddish,thereisaplaceforthemmotivatingstudentstopursuefurtherfortheycan
connectwithit.ContrarilytheobjectivityofMathsmakesitmuchtougher.Everything
hasadefiniteanswer.Is"Hausdorffspacecompact?","Isthissystemdeterministicor
probable?Ifthelatter,whatistheprobability?"There'sno"maybeit'sprobabilistic
system".There'snoplacefor'opinions'andthosewhomissedthebasicsofthesubject
wouldfailtounderstandthesuccessivethingsentirely.Soifonecan'tunderstand
compactnessofspaces,howwouldoneanswerifHausdorffspacesarecompact?(WhenI
saydifficult,Imeantheconceptsnotthecomputationwhichfollowsamethodical
approach).Burdenofproofincreasesthedifficultynostatementcanbeaccepted
withoutconclusive,irrefutableproof.Thesefollowasequenceofarguments(theoremsor
axioms).Ineachstep,onemayfindthemselvesdriftingfurtherfromreality.

Anysignsofreality?
Mostofmycomparisonshavebeenbasedagainstsocialsciences.Howeverifwecompare
againstscienceslikephysics,chemistry,medicinestillmathsstandsasmoreabstractand
incomprehensible.Wemaybeabletorelatetopulleysandresistancecircuitsmoreeasily
thanepsilons&deltasprimarilybecausewecanseetheformerwithoureyes.Similarly

flora,fauna,ourhumanbodytheirtangiblenaturemakesitmoreintuitivethanmaths.In
theend,mediacoveragealsoaffectsoursubconsciousunderstanding.Thismakessocial
scienceseasierbasiclevelfamiliaritywithit.Ifwe'dmorecoverageonscienceissueswe'd
havefoundthemrelativelyeasier.Ifmediafocusedonproofsandabstractionmore,maybe
we'dfoundMatheasierbutofcoursewewantalifeclosertoreality,notaway!
UpdatedFeb1,2013ViewUpvotes
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AnuragBishnoi,Ph.D.studentinMathematicsatGhentUniversity.
13.7kViews

Iwillbrieflydiscussaboutsomeparticulargroupsofpeopleandtheirreasonstofind
mathematicsdifficult.Eachgroupcanhavedifferentreasons.Mostofwhatfollowsis
basedonpersonalexperienceandwhatIhavereadindifferentarticles.Ofcourse,inan
answerlikethistherewillbemanygeneralisations:

Mathematicians(ortheoreticalcomputerscientists)finditdifficultbecausethereare
severaleasilystatedbutextremelydifficultproblemsinmathswhichmaytake
months/years/centuriestosolve.AndalsobecausetherearethingslikeInteruniversal
Teichmllertheory developedbyfellowmathematician(s)whichmanyprofessional
mathematicianswouldnotbeabletounderstand.
PhDstudentsinmathematicsfinditdifficultbecausetheyaregoingthroughavery
difficultprocessofbuildingaparticularareaofspecialisationandlearninghowto
generatenewmathematicsinthatarea.Theyfacefailureagainandagainbefore
somethinggoodcomesoutinthenarrowlyfocussedfieldtheyareworkingon.Sometimes,
evenafter47yearsofschoolnothing"good"comesoutofit.
Otherstudentsinmathematics/theoreticalcomputerscience/physicsfinditdifficult
because,wellsomeofthestuffinabstractmathsisquitedifficult!Ittakestimetogetused
tothingslikeTopology andCategorytheory butmanystudentsarenotfortunate
enoughtohavegoodteachersguidingthemwellthroughtheprocessoflearningthese
things.Theyhavetograspthebasicsofawidespectrumofareasinmathematicswhich
canbeadifficulttask.
Studentsandprofessionalsinotherfieldsthatusemathematicsasatoolfinditdifficult

becausetheymayhavesomeideaabouttheabstractnessofmathematicsbuttheyhaven't
beenexposedtoitproperlytobeabletoworkoutalltheproofsofthingsthattheyare
using(manywouldn'tevenseethenecessityofprovingthatthosetoolswork).Iftheyare
goodatusingtheparticulartoolsthentheymaynotevenfind"mathematics"difficult.
Others(discussedindetailinsomeoftheanswershere)usuallyfinditdifficultbecauseof
thedifficultschoolexperiencetheyhadinsomethingwhichwasdisguisedasmathematics
butwhichwasmostlyjustalgebraicmanipulations.Youhadtolearnandpracticecertain
algorithms(example:howtofindanintegral)onwhichyouweregraded.Therewere
absolutemarkerssetbythesystemwhichwouldtellyouifyouweregoodat"maths"or
not.AndduetosomereasonslikelowIQandlackofearlychildhoodtraining,many
wouldnotdowellinthosethings.Ibelievemostofthemwouldnotfindmathsdifficultfor
thoseparticularreasonsiftheyweretaughtmathsproperly.
WrittenMay2,2014ViewUpvotes
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JamesGay,MathsPhDStudentattheUniversityofLeeds
20.2kViewsJameshas30+answersinEducation

Alotofthereasonisbecauseofthewayit'staughtinschools.
Childrenaretaughttobemindlesscalculationmachines,insteadofbeingtaughtto
discoverinterestingthingswithmaths.They,understandably,hateit,sotheydon'ttrythat
hard,sotheycan'tdoit.
It'snevergoingtoworkforeveryone,butfixthatandyougoalongwaytofixingthe
problemofnumeracyamongstthegeneralpopulation.
WrittenDec7,2012ViewUpvotes
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TanaySukumar
6kViews

Readthisandyou'llknowthereason.
https://www.maa.org/devlin/Lockh...

Personally,Ifeelmathematicsisonesubjectwheretheteachermattersalot.Inanother
subject,ifyou'renotinterested,thenanexcellentteachercanonlykeepyouinterestedfor
aslongasthey'rementoringyou.You'lllovethesubjecttillthen,butthemomenttheygo,
you'lllosetheinterestagain,becauseyou'renottalentednaturallyinit.Butinthecaseof
mathematics,agoodteachercancreatealifelonginterestandskills.Reason:Mathematics
isafeatureoflife,notascience.Ateacherwhomakesitlooklikeafeatureoflife,succeeds.
Theonewhomakesitlooklikeascholarlyscience,makesitboringanddifficult.Ihave
seenpeoplewhowerepreviouslyvirtuallydumbatmathematicsbecomingexcellentover
twoyears,allbecausetheystumbleduponanexcellentteacher.Ihaveexperiencedit
myself.
WrittenDec8,2012ViewUpvotes
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DrewHenry,GraduateStudent
2.6kViewsDrewhas60+answersinEducation
OriginallyAnswered:Whyismathsodifficult?

Mathisabstractandthemoreabstractitgets,themoredifficultitgets.Whatis1/3?Ifyou
visualizeapie,then1/3isoneoutofthreeslicesofpie,allthreeofwhichmakeupthe
wholepie.Whatdoesitmeanforametricspacetobecompact?Youcanappealtoyour
knowledgeofEuclideanspaceandclosedsetstohelpunderstandtheconceptofmetric
spacesandcompactness,butthereisn'tmuchfreedomforrelyingonrealworldexperience
anymore(ifyoudisagree,thensubstitutecompactmetricspacewithsomething
appropriatelyabstract)andyouareinsteadforcedtoappealtopreviousmathematical
knowledge.
Mathisrigorous.Thisappliesmainlytohigherlevelmathandcanhinderboth
mathematicalunderstandingandmathematicaldoing.Ifmathispresentedinavery
rigorousmanner,itcanbedifficulttotranslatethisintosomethingmoreintuitive.
Comparetheintuitiveexplanationofalimittotheepsilondeltadefinitionforagood
exampleofthis.Readingproofscanbeespeciallydifficultbecausetheynotonlyrequire
youtobeabletocomprehendmathematicalgibberishbuttobeabletodosocontinuously
whilefollowingamathematicaltrainofthoughtforseverallines,paragraphs,oreven
pages.Additionally,havingtotranslatetheotherwaycanmakeactuallyproducing
rigorousmathematicalwork(e.g.doingproofs)verydifficult.

Mathcanbecounterintuitivewhichcanmakeitconfusing.Anyareaofmathinvolving
infinitygivesagoodexampleofthis.Agoodportionofanyundergraduatelevellinear
algebratextbookisgoingtohavethedisclaimer"forfinitevectorspaces"somewherein
almosteverytheorembecausethefriendly,intuitivetheoremsoffinitedimensionallinear
algebrafallapartininfinitedimensions.
Mathhasprerequisites.Ifyoudon'tunderstandtheprerequisiteswell,thentopicsthat
buildonthemwillbeverydifficulttocomprehend.
Somepeoplehaveaneasiertimewithhardcorelogicandabstractionsthanotherpeople.
I'dliketothinkI'mgoodatmathbutIamverybadatartandsoanequallyvalidquestion
frommyperspectivemightbe"Whyisdrawingsohard?"Really,ImeanIdonoticewhen
somepeoplehaveslightlytallerheadsthanotherpeopleorslightlybigger/smallerears,
etc.,buthowonearthcanpeoplelookatsomeone'sfaceandnotonlybeableto
comprehendallthedetailsbutalsobeabletotranslatethemintoaportraitthatlooks
exactlylikethatperson?Howdotheyevencreatecontinuousshadingwithonlyone
pencil?WhenItrytodothatIcanonlyget23shades:light,dark,andmaybesomesort
ofinbetween.
WrittenAug16,2015ViewUpvotes
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JeremyMiles,QuantitativeanalystatGoogle
42.1kViewsJeremyhas30+answersinEducation

Mathisdifficultbecauseeverythingisdifficult.
Writingstoriesisdifficult.
Dancingisdifficult.
Actingisdifficult.
AfewyearsagoIheardasectionontheradiowheretheybroughtpeopleinoffthestreet
andaskedthemtoreadtheweatherreport.Theywereappalling.Really,reallybad.
Readingtheweatherontheradioisdifficult.
WritinggoodanswersonQuoraisdifficult.

Averyfewpeoplearegoodatanyofthese.Butwithmostthings,it'shardtoknowjust
howbadyouare.WatchtheearlyAmericanIdols.Mostofthosepeoplearedross.Butthey
arereally,trulyhorriblydisappointedwhentheyarebootedoff.
IthinkIcouldreadtheweatherontheradio,justaswellasthepersonwhoreadsitnow.I
willprobablybeshockedwhenIfindouthowbadIamatit.
GotoanyrestaurantorcafeinLosAngelesmostofthewaitstaffmovedtoLAbecause
theywantedtobeactors.Theyreallythoughttheyhaveachanceofbeingafamous(or
evenworking)actor.Butmostofthemdon't,becauseit'sreallydifficulttobeagoodactor.
Yourjobisprobablydifficult.Iprobablycouldn'tdoit.WhenItellpeoplewhatmyjobis,
theystarttalkingtomeaboutit,becausetheythinktheyhavesomethinginterestingtotell
meaboutmyjob.(I'mapsychologist.)ButIthinkIhaveitbad?Ishouldprobablytry
beingJonasMikkaLuster"You'reacook.Icookinmykitchen.Letmetellyouabout
yourjob".
Butifyou'renotgoodatmath,youknowit.Ithitsyouintheface.Straightaway.Hard.
There'snopretendingorfoolingyourself.Icanthrowasteakonagrill,ormakeapasta
sauceandpretendIknowhowtocook.*ButIcan't,ever,integratethatequation.
ObligatoryXKCDcomic:

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*Afriendofmineusedtolikebakingcakes.Theirfriendswerepoliteandsaid"Yum!

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Deliciouscakes!"Thefriendthoughttheyknewhowtobake.Theysoldcakestoaplace
thatdid'FarmhouseTeas'.Onmorethanoneoccasion,acustomerreturnedthecake,
becauseitwasinedible.
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