Asking Smart People Stupid Questions

No matter how stupid your question is, if you find smart enough people to answer it you’ll learn a lot of cool stuff.

This week, I posed this stupid question on twitter.

This was a light-hearted bit of stupidity born from a question in class. I didn’t expect to get anything interesting out of it.

The first interesting thing to me was that Factorial (!) was at one stage leading in the poll for most hated character. I only put it in there at the last second, on the basis that I felt a poll needed at least three options. When I tweeted my astonishment at this, I got this great thread of responses.

Now I didn’t tweet my stupid poll for any reason other than boredom. But what I got was this little pearl of wisdom right here.

“Maths is a natural language, with all the illogicality that goes with language”.

Ok, neat. So I post a stupid question, then I get my whole Maths teacher worldview turned upside down. My supremely logical subject is communicated in messy, illogical ways. So now I start examining the things I teach, asking myself what I take for granted and how I can assimilate this “obvious once someone else says it” idea into my practice.

After that, I get hit with this.

So now I’ve got to start thinking about “The grammar of Maths”. This gem of a tweet thread sent me down a serious google rabbit hole just trying to figure out what was being said so then I could try to dissect some other maths grammar for myself.

My second question

After asking a bummer of a question like “What’s the worst”, you really do need to follow up with “What’s the best?”. So that’s what I did. And I got 20 or so responses. I’ll just include the wildest here:

Now I could pretend I understand what’s going on here. I don’t. Instead, what I get is an overwhelming sense of wonder. That the fun little subject I teach in high school is just the tip of the iceberg, and there’s people out there who say “musical isomorphism between tangent & cotangent bundles of some manifold” and know exactly what they’re talking about.

I know some people say there are no stupid questions. I don’t really subscribe to that, I’ve heard some real doozies. But surround yourself with smart enough people to answer your stupid questions and you just might find out something interesting.

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