What Matters Cannot be Tested For

Sean McClure
2 min readFeb 18, 2024

I get that math techniques extend beyond simple examples, and thus mental math may not seem useful to deriving full-fledged challenges mathematically.

But I disagree.

The former has direct utility, but lacks what I consider to be the essence of mathematical reasoning. It is not reasoning to mindlessly shuffle symbols around, following the dictates of a prescribed convention.

Math occurs in the mind naturally, which is likely the only reason we keep coming back to it, and why many can’t help but scream “it’s the language of the universe!” or some other meaningless statement.

It’s not “tricks” the mind is doing (e.g. cross multiply to get an answer) it’s the movement and twisting of shapes and essences. It is intuition that leads, with math playing catch-up.

One could argue that learning cute little tricks is akin to being a good mechanic, and we all need mechanics. But a good mechanic feels their way through a problem. They know the moods and personalities of the systems they tinker with. They are not deterministic machines following designed conventions and hoping for the best.

Of course this isn’t just math. Every field has its mindless cogs who know the steps yet fail to intuit the most obvious patterns. Today’s math education speaks to the broader problem of filtering society for dumbness by teaching “hard” tricks stripped of meaning.

Like any pseudoscientific test (e.g. IQ) we’re all supposed to pretend that narrow and mindless “solving” is “smart” when in reality it’s an assessment of genuine mental deficiency (e.g. if you’re really really good at solving meaningless problems you’re missing something humans evolved to have).

What matters in any vocation is what cannot be tested for. Nobody can test for mental math because you cannot explain the movement, twists and essences that you saw in your mind. Nobody can test the mechanic on how he felt his way towards the problem’s cause, let alone envisioned the solution. Nobody can test the pianist on how they mucked around the keys until something sounded good.

I’ll say it again. What matters cannot be tested for.

Don’t let schooling turn you into an idiot.

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Sean McClure

Founder Kedion, Ph.D. Computational Chem, builds AI software, studies complexity, host of NonTrivial podcast.