This is the closest thing to a feel-good math book I’ve ever encountered. I decided to read it because I’m just terrible at math. Numbers don’t even register in my head the right way for some reason. And in my quest to be a well rounded individual I feel like I should at least master the basic math skills. Even though I’m pretty literate, I’m very innumerate. So I was surprised to find from the book that our mathematical ability stems from the same part of our brain that is in charge of language. In a way it made sense, I’ve always thought of sentence structure as a sort of equation. Especially when learning other languages. After learning that little tidbit I was even more confused about why math and I have had such a terrible relationship. But by the end of the book I was starting to realize we had just gotten off on the wrong foot.

I fell off of the math wagon at long division. I felt I was great at math until 4th grade, when I found long division incomprehensible. I had my first nervous breakdown in the corner of the kitchen while trying to do my homework. It was all over after that; everything was a struggle. Teachers just gave up on me most of the time, and even trying to decipher the text books was pointless. When studying art I realized how important math was in nature, and how prevalent. I was fascinated and started thinking that I needed to figure out all the things that I had barely learned and then forgotten. Unlike other math haters I never believed the common complaint that I’ll never need the skills. I always felt like I was missing out on something really important due to a long string of uninterested and maladjusted teachers. Well, until I was a senior in high school, my teacher that year was great. It was the first time I got an A in any math type class since elementary school. I agreed with a lot of the things written in this book, and enjoyed all the fun facts about animals. It was like reading Zoobooks for the first half. I especially enjoyed annoying whoever was around with the random things I was learning. For instance, how owl’s ears are offset and highly sensitive so that they can accurately triangulate the location of tiny prey. Scary!

The beginning covers how basically, each creature on earth is a specially formulated calculator for the few mathematical operations that it needs to survive. Also, the difference between natural math and school math was explained. How we developed counting and arithmetic in a difference sense than animals and plants but that the same theories are there. The ‘nature is math’ theme was then applied to various things we humans do. By the end of the book the subject that was closest to my experience was covered: how humans do math. While I liked the animal parts, the end chapters were my favorite. They pointed out how ingenious humanity’s invention of the numerical and mathematical systems were, and also how they’re flawed and hard for many to learn. But also how people develop their own techniques to perform arithmetic when they need to. Mostly in their head and with greater accuracy than on paper in test form. It made me feel less flawed and more average. It’s good feeling average. Plus it reinforced the things I had already thought were wrong with the way math is taught in school, by explaining that we never really understand math and numbers until they have meaning for us beyond well ordered squiggles.

The last chapter of the book includes helpful steps for improving ones’ personal relationship with numbers and math. Overall it made me think of how miraculous and awesome our capacity for learning the patterns of nature is. And also how silly it is to waste such a gift. I’m always and forever impressed by nature. This book just cemented the connection that I had already started noticing between nature and math. Hopefully it will all lead to me being successful in future attempts at math, and numbers having a bigger meaning for me. Besides my thinking that numbers have personalities, of course. That’s just weird.

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