How I Rewired My Brain to Become Fluent in Math (response)

How I Rewired My Brain to Become Fluent in Math

They should just call it nauseo.us magazine because some of these articles are so wrong as to induce vomiting.

There is no disagreement about the absurdity that playing basketball will make you taller but many people willingly believe ‘brain puzzles’ or ‘rewiring’ will make them smarter. [1] Many want to hold on to the cherished belief instilled by culture that they have ‘free will’, and that their potential, particularly as it pertains to intellectual endeavors such as math or coding, is not limited by genes.

Interestingly though, intelligence is treated as malleable whereas physical traits less so. We’re more apt to believe we can ‘rewire our brains’ to become good at math, than become a marathoner. Part of this has to do with how society has evolved economically, from an economy and society that prized physical labor, to presently, the ‘information age’, where intellectualism is more important than physical strength. A couple hundred years it would have been the opposite: people believing that physical ability and traits are malleable but intelligence less so. High intelligence confers with a greater self-worth, as well as being a more valuable person to society in terms of economic value and creative output.

Nowadays it’s not as politically incorrect (or at least not as much as it was decades ago) to point out that perhaps some groups, due to certain biological traits, are better at basketball or sprinting than others. But to suggest that some groups are less intelligent? Well then it’s off to the unemployment line for you.

I was a wayward kid who grew up on the literary side of life, treating math and science as if they were pustules from the plague. So it’s a little strange how I’ve ended up now—someone who dances daily with triple integrals, Fourier transforms, and that crown jewel of mathematics, Euler’s equation. It’s hard to believe I’ve flipped from a virtually congenital math-phobe to a professor of engineering.

One day, one of my students asked me how I did it—how I changed my brain. I wanted to answer Hell—with lots of difficulty! After all, I’d flunked my way through elementary, middle, and high school math and science. In fact, I didn’t start studying remedial math until I left the Army at age 26. If there were a textbook example of the potential for adult neural plasticity, I’d be Exhibit A

We’ll it’s fairly obvious the author has a high IQ, and this helped her make the transition from a ‘mathphobe’ to a ‘numerophile’. HBD explains what others attribute to ‘magic’, ‘rewiring’, or ‘tons of practice’. This also douses water on the multiple intelligences theory, as opposed to the Spearman ‘general g’ theory of intelligence. The creation of these multiples types of ‘intelligence’ (‘street smarts’, EQ, ‘multiple intelligences’) seems to be part of a trend in political correctness in not wanting to face the unpleasant reality that some people are perhaps smarter than others, so by creating many types of intelligences, everyone can be smart at ‘something’. As it turns out, people who are smart at writing can often make the transition to other high-IQ endeavors such as math or coding, whereas those who are less intelligent tend to not be very good at anything intellectual-related.

[1] A refutation is that exercise can improve physical ability, and that if people improve at basketball by practicing then one can become smarter by doing ‘brain puzzles’ and ‘rewiring’. In general, physical ability tends more plastic than mental ability, but improvement in ability should not be confused for modification of ‘traits’. People know that height is a fixed trait, which (after the bones stop growing) is correct, but they are also inclined to believe intelligence is malleable, but this is just as absurd as thinking you can modify your height (short of surgery). As for ‘brain training’, brain puzzles do not boost IQ to any high degree of significance.

But how about studying? Don’t people who study math become better at it. To some extent, yes, but improvement at a task should not be conflated with modification of an underlying trait (like height, IQ, etc.). Studying is like doing a single Sudoku puzzle over and over and being really good at the one Sudoku configuration. IQ is what allows you to be good at any puzzle, and to master puzzles quickly. IQ involves making inferences, separating noise from signal. It’s the reason why ‘plug and chug’ is much easier for students than word problems; the latter requires making inferences. It’s more mentally demanding. As for learning, smarter people get better faster (which is also why IQ is strongly correlated with job performance). The less intelligent may see improvement, but they may never make the fundamental connections necessary for mastery (it never ‘clicks’), and they are less adept at filtering noise. IQ is analogous to the hardware on a computer whereas ‘brain boosters’ and ‘studying’ are like the ‘software’…no matter how good the software is, it will run against the physical limitations imposed by the number of transistors on the chip, as well as the RAM.

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