There’s been a thread on rec.arts.comics.strips about the value of maths education, and how much of the things you learn in maths class are really useful later in life. Brian Fies contributed a personal essay so profound I asked him for permission to reproduce it here.

I like doing square and cube roots on a slide rule–you don’t even have to

slide anything, just read the line on the proper log scale. That’s

probably one of the few instances where a slide rule remains easier to use

than a calculator (though as Mark says, not as accurate), and I think it

instills a good subconscious feel for what logarithms are all about.To the original question of Why Bother Learning Math: Y’know, I really do

find myself using math up through at least the high school level very

regularly. Calculating square footages of flooring, what volume of topsoil I

need to cover a yard, what length of PVC pipe to buy, how many bookshelves

to build. Figuring averages, tips, gas mileage, food unit pricing. Once in a

while I bust out the Pythagorean Theorem or the volume of a sphere. It

actually is part of the fabric of my life that makes me a better consumer,

homeowner and citizen.What I didn’t really get until I hit calculus in college is that math (and

physics) are more valuable to me philosophically than as nuts-and-bolts

problem solvers. There quickly comes a point where equations stop being

about turning a crank to find “the answer” then modeling how an idea or

physical phenomenon works. I don’t think I actually solved a single

calculation or equation for at least my last two years of university study.

For example, you don’t take Schrodinger’s wave equation, put in some

numbers, and get an answer of “42.” Rather, you take that equation and ask,

“What does it tell me about how a hydrogen atom might act?” and then go see

if the atom does that.Even though I don’t use that level of math or even remember how to do it

anymore, I don’t consider that education a waste. It changed the way I look

at the universe and trained my brain in ways that have been beneficial to

me. One example: calculating hundreds of integrals from zero to infinity

gave me the habit of looking at the extreme possible outcomes of situations:

what would happen if everybody did something; what would happen if nobody

did it? What if the opposite action were taken (i.e., integrating from

negative infinity to zero or positive infinity)? What if that awful thing

done by the Democrats had been done by the Republicans (or vice versa)? What

if a policy that applies to black people were applied to whites? Or women to

men? Would I feel differently about it? Should I?Plugging in zero and infinity to see what happens is a helpful way to

analyze a math problem and I find it a helpful way to analyze life, as well.

So, if you ever wondered to yourself, “why do I need to learn this stuff anyway”, that’s why.