Why Maths was a Perfectly Legitimate Degree Choice for an Aspiring Writer

To my future reader,

I said previously that when the first sun of February had risen, so would I. Okay, I didn’t say it quite as poetically as that but I was getting there.

For me, January was a busy month, it was exam month. So I couldn’t realistically commit myself to my writing career/habit/hobby in full, I had to commit myself to my other life. My real life. My life away from Microsoft Word and WordPress.

Now, more than ever, would be an appropriate time to explain my degree choice, which, if the title of this post hasn’t already given away, is Maths.

First, a little history.

Throughout my life I’ve been one of those indecisive types who has never really had any idea what to do with his life. I went through a brief stage as a youngster of wanting to be a Pilot, but that was just the pipedream of a nine year old. You know how when you were a kid you wanted to be Superman or a Firefighter? or something really cool because you’d seen it on the TV? Well being a Pilot was my Superman.

When I grew out of aviation I didn’t really have another career in mind to jump into. Granted, I was still quite young, but my sister is a Doctor, and she’s known she’s wanted to be a Doctor since she was 5 and she made her Barbie’s perform CPR on eachother. I’ve never had a goal like that, I’ve never known “Right, this is where I’m heading and this is how I’m going to get there.” I’d always enjoyed reading and I’d dabbled in writing for small pieces of coursework and the like, so it was something that was always in the back of my mind.

So when I grew up and it came time to pick choices for my A Levels, and subsequently my degree, I kind of took a cowards way out. And made a mistake. I just picked what I was good at. And I’d always been good at Maths. So I thought: “Well why not just do what I’m good at.” And that’s exactly what I did. Before I decided on the Maths degree I flirted with the idea of a doing a Creative Writing degree, the back part of my mind had been coming to the forefront slightly and it was something I considered, but in the end disregarded.

Basically I pretty much chose the course that on paper is completely the opposite of what I now realise I want to do. Before Uni I thought about writing now and then, now I think about it all the time. It’s what I want to do and I know that now. It’s just a shame that it’s 18 months too late.

In most ways Maths and English are pretty much opposite subjects, but in some ways they are very similar.

If you were to ask someone what the polar opposite of a number is, most would say “A word” or “A letter” which I both agree and disagree with. Logically it makes sense, but they are also so similar.

By themselves, numbers make sense. One is one and two is two. Numbers have purpose and structure. A one followed by a one is eleven and if you put another one in front it’s one hundred and eleven, you can combine numbers in many ways to get a formula or a proof or a much bigger number. Well that’s the same as letters and words. On their own, letters have meanings, we know that a is a and b is b. And then you put a few letters together and you have a word. Put a group of words together and you have a sentence, put sentences together and you have a paragraph or a chapter or a book.

On their own numbers and letters both make sense, but you put a group of them together and you get so much more than what you started with. Letters and Numbers can be combined in an uncountable number of random ways and you can get so many different results. There’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere. How, as humans, we are pretty good on our own. But when we work together we can achieve so much more.

It reminds me of something called the infinite monkey theorem, which I’m sure many people have heard of. It basically says that if you put a monkey alone in a room with a typewriter, and you teach that monkey to randomly bash keys on the typewriter, and you give that monkey an infinite amount of time, eventually the monkey will write the entire works of Shakespeare. And I mean letter for letter in the exact order they were written and published the first time round.

What that comes down to is a great deal of chance. The probability of a monkey hitting a keyboard at random and writing all 884,421 words (credit: Google) that Shakespeare wrote in the exact order he wrote them is astronomical. But the great thing about numbers is that even for odds that high, when you compare that chance to infinity it doesn’t seem that big any more.

Infinity is such a wonderful concept that I will probably dedicate a blog post to infinity at some point.

So I know that doing a Maths degree probably won’t help me advance as a writer, but the concepts are pretty much the same. Maths teaches me that if I bash randomly at this keyboard for long enough I might just write the entire works of Shakespeare.


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