Bret Victor, a former designer at Apple, is working on a way to use a computer to make math more meaningful. I can see that he really gets the representational aspect, that the *symbols are not the math, just a way to represent it*, and it’s not a particularly good way to represent it. This is not the whole of math encapsulated into something that’s easy to understand (math is about assertions and inferences of relationships, which are then proved or disproved), but it’s an alternative to using symbols for representing complex relationships.

Here’s an article talking about Bret’s work on an early version of something he’s working on for the iPad.

Great stuff, and I congratulate him on finding a good use for a computer!

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That’s neat. Until I spent a long time playing with Maple a few decades ago, I saw math as a series of magical symbol relationships that needed to be memorized. Once I figured out that a computer could manipulate them quite easily (for many branches) I grok’ed what was going on underneath. Since we live in what is an essentially increasing mathematical society (you don’t have to dig very deeply in most places before you find some mathematics) distributing an understanding to a wider audience is important for us continuing to remain stable. We rely on mathematics too heavily for such a large segment of our population to have a fear of it.

Paul.

I am not quiet sure what’s new about that application, it seems awfully close to a graphing calculator with a twist of showing specific function relationship. More so a tool to visualize data/function relationship – which is cool in it’s own right, but how does that de-mystify the abstract concepts of math?

@Alon:

I think what you said about function relationship is very descriptive. That in itself is mathematical, because mathematics is about relationships.

I didn’t say that it demystifies the abstract concepts of math. I explicitly said, “This is not the whole of math.” It’s a different way of representing functions. That’s how I’d put it. Rather than just using symbols, you can visualize how the functions behave, which the symbolic representation does not get across well. What excited me about this is that it offers a way to get a “feel” for functions. That’s something I never got a good grasp of when I had math in school, back in the 1980s (when most of us didn’t have graphing calculators 🙂 ).