Why Newton Ain't No Shakespeare

©1996 Zhan Huan Zhou

Isaac Newton possessed, perhaps, the greatest mathematical intellect in the history of the planet. Yet despite his God-given genius, Newton could never match the writing eminence of William Shakespeare. On the other hand, Shakespeare could not even begin to comprehend the complex mathematics of Newton.

Similar situations occur all too frequently in high schools. Quite often, very strong mathematics students have trouble in creative courses such as English. Conversely, many strong English students are weak in the area math. Let us examine two OAC students that attend "Applebrook High School." For confidentiality, we will call one student "Isaac" and the other "William."

It's 8:45AM Wednesday morning. William is frantically looking over his math notes hoping that last minute cramming will aid in his quest for the 'A' in Calculus he needs to get into university. Across the room, Isaac is chatting with Albert about his new Pentium and all the problems he's been having with Windows'95. The panic of the room is interrupted by the teacher informing the class to put away their books; the test is beginning.

Wasting no time, William quickly flips the test over, pencil in hand and furiously scribbles down answers. Following all the rules he learned in the chapter, he struggles through the test. Reaching the final question, William realizes he only has fifteen minutes left. William would require a page and ten minutes to finish this question, at least. He goes to work on the question and to his surprise, is preoccupied wondering what practical use this will have later in his life. Pushing that thought aside, William returns to the problem at hand and instead of thinking of numbers, his mind sees literary images. I hate numbers, William thinks to himself. With scarcely a minute left, he packs up his stationary and has no time to check for mistakes. He knows there are many. There always are.

Taking his time, Isaac slowly turns the test over, and reads it carefully. He uses all his might to restrain from bursting out laughing. Cruising along, he stops at the last question and thinks for a moment. Using the methods learned in the chapter would require an entire page at least, Isaac thinks to himself. By applying advanced Newtonian Calculus, he needs only five lines and half the time. I love numbers, Isaac thinks to himself. With more than forty minutes left in the class, he leafs through the test hunting for his mistakes. He knows there are none. There never are.

At the end of the period, they both hand in their tests and head off to English class for yet another test.

Isaac takes his seat and starts reading the essay supplied with the test. It's a stupid essay on "Freedom" that has no relevance to him whatsoever. For the essay question, he is asked for his opinion of the essay. Not even caring, Isaac simply invents one. As long as I defend it, I should get marks since there is no definite answer, Isaac thinks to himself. During the writing of the essay, he is preoccupied wondering what practical use this will have later in his life. Pushing that thought aside, Isaac returns to the problem at hand and instead of thinking of literary images, his mind sees numbers. I hate essays, Isaac thinks to himself. Finishing the essay, Isaac knows that he will not get full marks. Unlike Calculus class, simply forming a correct solution will not earn full marks. For some reason, essays demand more than that, something that has always eluded Isaac's grasp.

William takes a seat and starts reading the essay supplied with the test. He finds the essay enlightening and describes his feelings very adequately. Having a strong emotional response, his essay is filled with his deepest feelings. Incorporating beautiful imagery, extensive use of metaphors, similes and other literary devices, his essay is a masterpiece. I love essays, William thinks to himself. Though he knows it is not perfect, it possessed every aspect of a great essay, something that has always been in William's grasp.

The key to being proficient in both subjects is understanding that a different pattern of thinking is required. Mathematics is very logical and requires a firm understanding of mathematical concepts. The steps taken must follow strict rules and cannot be debated. On the other hand, writing an English essay is abstract and requires pure creativity. Since there is no definite answer to a response or an essay, it is left to the reader to decide its virtue. When all else fails, remember the words of the great Isaac Shakespeare: "All the world's a sine wave."

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©1996-2001 Zhan Huan Zhou. Last updated May-01-2001.

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