Grant Sanderson: Math For The Masses on North Star podcast with David Perell

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Key Takeaways

  • Humans are visual thinkers, so visually learning math resonates
  • The biggest misconception about math is that it’s all about absolute truths
  • YouTube view counts indicate that people are getting into math more than ever before
  • There is a high correlation between those who did math olympiads in high school and those who do useful technical things for society later on
  • Three Problem -Solving Tricks for Math:
    • 1. Organize your thoughts
    • 2. Look for what doesn’t change when you alter perspectives
    • 3.  If it’s a physics problem, check out the conservation laws
  • Ambient Research is the phase in which casual thinking or being “idle” is essential
  • “The future is ours to invent, it won’t invent itself” – Grant Sanderson
  • Three Categories of Mathematicians:
    • Those that don’t care about applications but enjoy the beauty of math
    • Those that love puzzles and don’t care if math touches the real world
    • Those who see math’s beauty in its effectiveness

Intro

Grant Sanderson (t: grantstevenson4) is the person behind one of the world’s largest math-focused YouTube channels: 3blue1brown, a math YouTube channel focused on higher mathematics with a distinct visual perspective.

Grant Sanderson’s Inspiration to Pursue Math

  • “I saw the beauty in number and patterns – trying to find different perspectives on what is known versus searching for something new”- Grant Sanderson
  • Grant’s dad played math games with him when he was young and he started liking math because he was good at it – positive reinforcement
  • Grant followed his passion in college but regrets not engaging researchers that he had access to because he was a shy undergrad

The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge

  • Grant says that sharing math through the lens of his videos makes math useful and for some more enjoyable
  • “There is a high correlation between them (kids who did math olympiads in high school) and people who do useful technical things for society later on. It’s not a coincidence” – Grant Sanderson
  • Three Categories of Mathematicians:
    • Some don’t care about applications – they’re all about the beauty of math as a thought mechanism
    • Some love puzzles that math brings about – they don’t care if math touches the real world
    • Others mathematicians come from the world of physics and see math’s beauty in its effectiveness

Is there Stagnation in Math?

  • No, math term papers are being published at an accelerated rate
  • The most important question in math: what should the axioms be?
  • In 2000, $1 million dollars was offered to the person who could solve and one of seven unsolved math problems – so far, only one has been solved
  • The biggest misconception about math is that it’s all about absolute truths – it’s not
  • Results are dependent upon the axioms you chose

Teaching Math

  • Grant doesn’t believe attention spans are getting shorter
  • Few people can appreciate pure math which hurts the ability to teach it
  • YouTube view counts indicate that people are getting into math more than ever before
  • A teaching video is value-added when it makes someone LIKE math
  • Humans are visual thinkers, so visually learning math resonates

Three Problem -Solving Tricks for Math

  • 1. Organize your thoughts – it’s the first step toward meaningful content
    • Give meaningful names to your work
    • Like writing, your thoughts get organized when you write them down
  • 2. Look for what doesn’t change when you alter perspectives
  • 3.  If it’s a physics problem, check out the conservation laws

The Tradeoff Between Productivity and Distraction

  • The best projects are born from distraction – you need distraction to stumble across new insights
    • But playing Candy Crush doesn’t count – you need the right kind of distraction
  • Idleness in math is the yoga equivalent of inhaling
  • “When you let yourself meditate on a raw pattern, you might see what others didn’t see” – Grant Sanderson

Building a Brand

  • It’s important – “I want people to trust they will have a meaningful experience if they click on my videos” – Grant Sanderson
  • Grant does in-person sample lessons to test out his lessons before filming
  • Problem-solving videos are the most fun for Grant to make, expository videos are more difficult because the endpoint is uncertain
  • Either way, a good hook is essential
  • Probability is a difficult topic to create a video for

The Advantage of Ambient Research

  • Ambient Research is the phase in which casual thinking or being “idle” is essential
  • It lets you go down a rabbit hole and discover things you didn’t expect to find
  • When looking for an intuitive explanation in math, start with the unintuitive

Grant’s Math Wisdom

  • Modern math is heavily collaborative – a good mathematician takes pieces from one math concentration to another
  • As universities struggle and drop some math programs, industrial research labs (like Bell Labs) may fill the void
  • Grant’s favorite math constant is 1 – he said it’s undervalued because it’s a backbone, not sexy
  • “The future is ours to invent, it won’t invent itself” Grant Sanderson
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Notes By EWerbitsky

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