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Street-Fighting Math

edX · Massachusetts Institute of Technology · 3 HN points · 2 HN comments

HN Academy has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention edX's "Street-Fighting Math" from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Course Description

Teaches, as the antidote to rigor mortis, the art of educated guessing and opportunistic problem solving.

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Jun 25, 2020 · seven4 on Street-Fighting Mathematics
"Mahajan describes six tools: dimensional analysis, easy cases, lumping, picture proofs, successive approximation, and reasoning by analogy. Illustrating each tool with numerous examples, he carefully separates the tool—the general principle—from the particular application so that the reader can most easily grasp the tool itself to use on problems of particular interest. Street-Fighting Mathematics grew out of a short course taught by the author at MIT"

That short course looks like its still available on edx - though it's archived - I seem to be able to access the material.

The content looks quite interesting for a mathematician too—so I'm sorry that the advertising needs to be antagonising.

But even Keep the Aspidistra Flying was basically mutilated by circumstance [1] and it's still a great book. So, I'll take the insults towards mathematicians with humour and actually read some of it—I often switch between grumpy rigour to applicative speed. We all need to earn an income.


Edit: Just to be clear, my comment on mathematicians is not on your quote, but this quote from OP's post:

> an antidote to mathematical rigor mortis

> even Keep the Aspidistra Flying was basically mutilated by circumstance

You think the British intelligentsia would react kindly to an honest portrayal of the class system?

Anything more recent than ?
Orwell's book's structure was dictated by the publishers, but I still love the content. My allusion was because I am wondering why the description needs to insult pure mathematics in order to promote Street Fighting Mathematics.

And similarly to Orwell's book, it seems like Street Fighting Mathematics does actually have interesting content, despite whatever the reason may be that they need an "antidote" for general mathematics.

I see what you're saying.

I think the author meant the same thing as Feynman when he described the "Greek" and "Babylonian" approaches to mathematics.

For all but a select few (pure mathematicians), the "Babylonian" approach is a lot more fun. Both approaches are clearly necessary and useful in different settings.

With the advent of systems like the Lean theorem prover, the two approaches may start to see a lot more overlap.

How on earth is any of the advertising antagonizing? I had to read through the course page twice to look for anything remotely resembling a criticism and came up blank.

If it is the quote you added to the bottom of your comment, my question still stands. That isn't an insult to anyone (certainly not mathematicians) but rather a comment that many people freeze up when it comes to mathematics (at least that was my interpretation).

> How on earth is any of the advertising antagonizing?

The word "antidote" is used in the book's summary, which is defined as (via Google) "a medicine taken or given to counteract a particular poison." One could take the "poison" to be mathematical rigor, or something similar.

Perhaps this does not change your opinion, but I do not think the original comment was completely off base.

There is a somewhat common attitude towards abstract mathematics that its preciseness is something of a bother to people and that it requires some kind of "cure".

Immanuel Kant wrote about it [1] and many engineers have a varying degree of animosity towards pure mathematics. So, in the book's description they say this:

This engaging book is an antidote to the rigor mortis brought on by too much mathematical rigor, teaching us how to guess answers without needing a proof or an exact calculation.

I don't like the advertising, or the description if you will, as it basically tries to discount rigour. One can simply say it's an addition to the usual rigour of mathematics for the sake of daily street fighting style problem solving. The way they state it, however, it sounds like they are saying that rigorous math is not necessary.

My reference to George Orwell is simply that when he wrote Keep the Aspidistra Flying his publishers made him write a lot of things he didn't want to write, and they even specified the amount of words the books needed to have (which is is somewhat understandable, but limiting still).

[1] However, note that this is about metaphysics and one can argue that pure mathematics is not what he was critisising and that his work doesn't directly try to disprove the use of axioms, without which mathematics cannot exist.

Apr 14, 2014 · 2 points, 0 comments · submitted by henrik_w
Upcoming MITx MooC taught by the author:

Feb 15, 2014 · 1 points, 0 comments · submitted by rl1987
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