For some people, mathematics is not important. They never handle money or plan how to save or spend it. They are not interested in using logic in life, but rely on instinct and emotion to carry them through. They want only a non-technical career, and are content to enjoy the benefits of modern life without having any understanding of its underpinnings in science, engineering, and computing. For the rest of us, these are ways that math enriches our lives:
Comparison-shopping and bulk buying are two of the ways smart people get more for their money. Knowledge of math is helpful in figuring out just what a cup of homemade coffee costs, and whether a relatively expensive overcoat is a better value over time than a gauzy empire tunic.
Homebuyers need to know some math. Calculators can approximate what a mortgage payment will be, but the buyer must figure out for herself whether she can afford that payment. Renters want to know what they can afford too, of course.
Finance is a branch of mathematics. It becomes increasingly important as people go through life. It is good to be able to balance a checkbook, especially considering what banks charge for overdrafts. When it comes to saving and investing, it is helpful to be able to compare returns, and to adjust them for risk. Dollar cost averaging and (better still) value averaging are each excellent ways of increasing returns, and both depend upon knowledge of math.
Math, from the first multiplication table, teaches order, procedure, and method. Given the chance, many young children enjoy coming to understand how multiplication builds on addition, and how division works as a kind of subtraction. It gives them insight into how one thing builds on another in the world, and a sense of ways to understand complex ideas by taking them apart into their components.
People who are lucky enough to get some instruction in logic are learning to use a profoundly human skill. Logic is not useful in every situation, but it can simplify many complicated problems, and illuminate many dark corners. Many ordinary people who have studied logic find its structure quite useful as well as beautiful.
Probability is a branch of mathematics that is helpful to casual card players as well as to hardened gamblers. It also plays roles in government, business, and scientific planning. In fact, it is useful for decision making of all sorts.
Math skills are the basis of many satisfying careers. Math mavens sometimes get to spend their lives teaching, researching, and learning. Actuaries, rocket scientists, physicists, and engineers all share backgrounds in math. They may spend their lives solving puzzles, and enjoying the abstract pleasures of pure thought. They also make good money.
Mathematics underpins huge segments of our knowledge of the world. Its logic is the methodology of all the hard sciences. Scientists use the techniques of probability and statistics when they construct and evaluate studies. They usually express their findings in mathematical form.
How could cities roads and industry be possible without engineers? Their work rests on the practical application of mathematics as much as it does on physics. Earthquake-safe building codes, highway curves, automobiles themselves, are all informed by mathematical law.
Computer science is almost all mathematics. The engineers and scientists who work in this field were generally led there by an intense interest in the abstractions of higher mathematics.
Sometimes children are taught mathematics as if it were meaningless drudgery. Really, it is a vivid discipline of abstract thought, high imagination, and practical application. Mathematics is in play when we shop, when we work, and when we shoot rockets at the moon.