How Improved Pattern Recognition Can Save Your Math Career!

There is a reason that whenever my dog hears the word vet, he starts yapping like a wild hyena (see below!). Mark Mattson of the Frontiers in Neuroscience wrote that it is the humans ability to recognize patterns that places them at the top of the intellectual food chain. My dog understands that when he hears the word vet, it is associated with certain procedures that he probably would not like to be reminded of(still sorry about that Cooper). Similarly , the human brain is programmed to look for universal patterns in our surroundings. One way we quantify those patterns: Math.

As much as it doesn’t feel like it when we’re sitting in pre calculus, our brains are programmed to understand math on a fundamental level. That doesn’t mean that we are going to grasp these seemingly obtuse concepts instantly, but rather that we all have the capability if we know what to look for.  Let’s take trigonometry as an example: when I am given a number in radians such as cos(560𝝅) all I have to do is think of the unit circle. I know that every 2𝝅 results in one full spin around the unit circle and puts me back at cos = 1. Therefore, I can apply that pattern just 280 times and voila, cos(560𝝅) = 1. Or how about when I am looking at a triangle with sides 3 and 4. Well, I can know without any help from pythagoras that the last side is 5.

It may seem here like I am cherry picking, but the very nature of math is patterns. In fact the very nature of nature is patterns. When an object is in orbit around another, the cube of the period divided by the radius squared is ALWAYS proportional. For how mundane that may seem, that is incredible.

My point is that next time you are sitting in geometry wondering how you are ever going to remember the difference between a 30 60 90 triangle and a 45 45 90, know that whoever you are, your brain is built for this. And if you aren’t understanding something, that’s not your fault, and maybe all you need is a little reminder of your own natural abilities. My dog may always be stressed when he hears the word vet, but you don’t have to be the next time you see the unit circle.

Link for Mattson’s Work:

My adorable dog:

Image may contain: dog



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