Most Mathematicians are Bad at Math

Sean McClure
2 min readMay 6, 2024

Most mathematicians are bad at math.

What nonsense is this they will scream. How can a title error on itself? Surely the fault lies in your own inabilities.

But my most distasteful statement will live longer than you. Its definiteness stems undeniably from a most simple truth: the paradigm is dying.

The days of thoughtless symbol manipulation are closing fast. A death none too soon. For there is nothing more objectionable to insight than the drab precision of one’s calculus.

The mathematician has become a second rate machine, a slow and error prone simulacrum of simulation itself. A lumbering shadow of today’s nonbiological machines.

Ask a mathematician to explain the concepts behind their formulations and they are dumbfounded. They understand neither nature nor the abstract meaning of their own symbols. They have traded deep perception for lifeless, unthinking mechanics.

They have created so narrow a definition of correctness that there is little correct in their philosophy.

Math’s current practitioners don’t understand their own tool. They have worked themselves into a sterile corner of conceptual impotence. They are esoteric for the sake of being esoteric.

Today’s mathematician survives because of an old tale about important things being calculated. Its cryptic symbols keep it alive because nobody will challenge it. Math has become so tightly bound to society’s perception of “smart” that it lives by default rather than survival.

But this is its weakness. It has grown detached from the stressors of reality. It is rotting from the inside.

The torch must be passed to a different kind of thinker. Those who understand that true objectivity arises from deep conceptual arguments, not narrowly constructed rules and schemes. Ones who see math for what it truly is; not as cogs in some gearbox but as anchors for discussion, symbols of abstraction.

Mathematicians were good at math. They are now good at something else. Something self-serving, disconnected and ultimately dying.

A title is not a proclamation of comprehension. It is just a title. And yes, it can indeed error on itself. When members speak its language but no longer understand its meaning.

Enjoy the title. Because one day it will be taken from you.

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Sean McClure

Ph.D. Computational Chem, studies complexity, NonTrivial podcast.