Formulas and theorems

A guest post by Lauretta Flack

As I lounge in the sun, tapping a myriad of holiday engagements into the calendar of my phone, I can’t help but have my eyes drawn back again and again to one particular little grey dot. Tomorrow I receive my year 11 exam results. I know it isn’t such a big deal. “It’s not the number but what you do with it”, “Lauretta you take all of this way too seriously”, etc. I’m actually feeling remarkably calm about the whole thing. But amongst those laughably impractical humanities subjects will be my maths scores. I’m feeling a little regretful at this moment because no matter how I fared on that frightening exam a month ago, those numbers also tell me definitively, in black and white, that I only have one year of maths left.

My plans for university don’t leave any space for such a subject as maths, as it isn’t really a huge part of the starving arts student lifestyle (which I, of course, aspire to). I’m surrounded by creative people who dedicate their time to publishing, exhibiting and performing in pantomime plays for four to six year olds; these people celebrate their last maths test with a typical sense of joy and release, while somehow I’m left scrambling to get into next year’s extended course. To the majority of my friends I’ve just consumed a winged mammal and proved myself once and for all to be bat-shit crazy. In an indefensibly sappy-nerd kind of way though, I’ve found I have a genuine love for maths. Not passion, because passion is how Nigella feels about muffins, or what you vainly throw about on resumes to convey some kind of infatuation with stacking crates. I have a strong affection for it, I feel a little bit lost at the thought of losing the presence of formulas and theorems in my life.

I may be a little at odds with my artist cohorts, but I can say with complete confidence, I think they’re missing out. Maths and arts feel to me like they share a strong commonality that not many people acknowledge. Full disclosure on my maths enjoyment however: I have been lucky enough to receive some wonderful teaching throughout all my years at school as well as being genetically competent enough to never have to struggle through maths classes, meaning that aside from the time I cried in grade 1 when I couldn’t do some multiplication sums, I have always been fortunate in my maths experiences. I’m sure there are tumblr social justice bloggers who would class this as high-level maths privilege, so I’d like to declare it, just to be sure.

As a result of owning my nerdy maths girl status from an early age, even though maths is spurned many times over by young creatives across the land, my experience of maths has instilled in me a different understanding of its importance. Sure, maths, at its basic level is a hellish maze of memorised number relationships and the most boring functions imaginable, which seem so completely irrelevant to any possible situation in the real world. The hardest part is getting through training to the actual game, which is basically a role-playing exercise to beat all role-playing exercises. The rules in the mathematical universe are no more unreasonable than rules in ‘real life’ like gravity or elevator etiquette. The numbers and problems themselves are as infinite as any situation, person or object that you can imagine. After studying for hours on end before a maths exam, the line between two worlds becomes scarily blurred and I once started accidentally visualising sentences as equations. But really, I feel like the deeper I’ve gotten in, the more the worship of logic that is at the very core of pure maths seeps into my thinking outside, in reality. I can’t imagine there’s anything more useful when you’re creating, to be able to flirt with the infinite and unimaginable, while still wielding a powerful weapon in something as simple and fundamental as logic. Plus when you have logic, you can easily flip around to the illogical, which is why mathematicians apparently make quite good comedians. The team of writers behind the Simpsons apparently has a crazy number of maths nerds.
Although it doesn’t seem so at first, maths is rarely definite. You can do a simple equation a million different ways, and still get a number that has a decimal trailing off so far no one will ever be able to finish the string of numbers. For me the beauty and complexity of this doesn’t seem so dissimilar to the sense that people try to capture, in art, of the way we understand our weird existence. 

Lauretta Flack is determined to alienate everyone she knows by never shutting up about maths. Her studies are situated in Hobart and her tweets about differential calculus and the dangers of sin graphs can be found here. Otherwise she doesn’t do much else because she needs to finish Breaking Bad soon.

Further reading

December – home

I spent the first minutes of 2018 on the beach. I’ve never actually spent New Year