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I'm a consulting geologist for a small company in the Denver area. I study problems related to active tectonics, using geomorphology, structural geology and remote sensing.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


hey all,

i just got finished with an assignment for a class based on the physics and chemisty of the solid earth. think about things like radioactive nuclide decay rates and the density structure of the deep earth as a function the entropic state of crystaline atomic organization and you'll get an idea of what this class is like. needless to say, understanding (or at least explaining) these kinds of ideas requires a fair amount of math: multi-variable calculus, quantum mechanics, etc. i, for one, suck at math.

i was complaining about this fact to someone and she (a chemist by training, and daughter of a math teacher) answered back with the inevitable 'but math is the universal language' bit. ok, ok, fair enough... yes, math is to a certain degree universal... inasmuch as there are certain undeniable truths in nature (the physics of thermodynamics in four dimensions, for instance) which have discrete and absolute mathematical descriptions. this fact however has no bearing on my frustrations with my own inability to solve differential equations to save my life. I offer another excerpt from an email which illustrates my feelings:

yeah yeah yeah... I've heard the whole "universal language" thing before. if traveling the world has taught me anything, it's that no language is universal, and that no language makes sense unless you speak it. i'm sort of like a foreign exchange student who still sucks at speaking a certain language because i haven't found a way to really learn it yet and i can get away with broken speech most of the time. the frustrating thing is that i almost always understand the process or idea behind the problem, and can usually jump to the goal without the benefit of an analytical path, at least qualitatively. of course i understand that calculus offers elegant solutions and descriptions of most natural phenomena, if not the only solutions in some cases. i just tend to feel that math in general should not be used as the sole method of explaining a system, since math (or at least an analytical equation) doesn't always provide the most illuminating explanation to a majority of people. i'm sure i've mentioned in the past that i bounced around between things like philosophy, literature and architecture before settling on geology. i finally went into geology because I felt like it was something that i could understand implicitly and wouldn't always require mathematical abstractions to explain (but still offered a chance to think critically about science and complex systems)... in my case, math is merely a tool to offer some quantification to what I view as a largely qualitative and intuitive field... one that is inherently interesting to humankind and has affected and shaped our societies since literally the beginning of time. for me, geology is the study of where we live... what processes shape our world and what that means to people all over the planet.

perhaps hate is too strong a word for the way i feel about advanced math... it's just frustrating to me, much the way it is frustrating to not be able to talk to people in their own language where ever i happen to be.


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