Calculus and Pizza

Clifford A. Pickover

As many years as it has been since I last set foot inside a school, my burning hatred towards the teaching of advanced mathematics has yet to calm within my soul. Because I was bullied into computer science as a career path, highschool to undergrad had turned my life into a Sisyphean hell. I was forced to endure classes in advanced mathematics—calculus especially—multiple times, despite the protestations from both myself and other compsci students that the subject matter had very little relevance to our actual work. The experience had left me with a very dire impression of the whole sociological process. The education system might make the lofty claim of their intent to produce critical-thinking mathematicians, yet the core practice only seems to reward timid and docile arithmeticians. (A subtle distinction which makes a world of difference.) The goal was never about the journey of learning, but instead the production of compliance to the selfish needs of your capitalist betters. The whole thing meant not to judge you on your ability to understand difficult material and its latent innovations, but instead on your unthinking means to robotically solve mind-numbing amounts of useless little logic puzzles.

Books such as these prey upon those trapped at the margins of the cruel process. They offer a glimmer of hope to those inundated with mountains of homework and not an ounce of “correctness” to show for it. The core concepts are simple; strikingly so. It can deftly explain to you the whole shebang on differentials and integrals with nothing more than overwrought metaphors about Italian cuisine. Yet it is illusory, because it misunderstands (or misrepresents) the underlying intentions which claim to employ it. Mere understanding is never enough, and it certainly won't save you from the harsh judgments of error which the human hand will inevitably produce. Pouring over false messiahs such as these will not save you from vacations lost to summer school, scholarships withdrawn from tanked GPAs, tuition money robbed over retaken classes, and the haunting spectre of an uncaring bureaucracy holding your future over your head.

Even now, this book stands on my shelf as if it were the mocking tombstone to a shallow grave which once nearly claimed me.

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