Something occurred to me in a flash of the reoccurring frustrations I experience during my stubborn lifelong engagement with mathematics. Has anyone ever applied "defamiliarization" to the process of studying mathematics?

I suspect not.

Also, this might be what Holden and I have been experiencing throughout our lives when it comes to mathematics.

It doesn't matter if I am looking at a Physics problem, a problem from a Differential Equations text, a Linear Algebra text, a Multivariable Calculus text, or even just some high school "precalculus text".

Sure, the computational aspects are mechanical and even boring; but when I am in a state of - the only word that seems to make sense here - DEFAMILIARITY, then it is as though I had never thought about the problem before.

When I had started attending a local community college at age 27, I had taken a test so I was allowed to start with "Calculus". Even though I had been out of high school for almost 10 years, I was determined to dive right in, and I did well. I most enjoyed all the algebra and trigonometry one must use when one encounters calculus problems. I would learn on the fly, greatly appreciating the algebraic and trigonometric pointers the instructor gave us along the way.

What I learned enabled me to pull off A's in Physics I and II ... and I even went so far as to get an A in "Multivariable Calculus" after transferring to the State University. Still, something was missing. I was never very confident in what I was doing.

I never want to experience such pressure to race through subjects like that again. In fact, you might say that my entire existence represents an authentic refusal to jump through such hoops. If I were to pick up a precalculus text, it will still take me a year to go through it if I am honest; and I have to tell you this not only frustrates me, because I want to be getting back into the physics and more advanced mathematics, but it also makes me suspect that this world is totally full of shiit, and that a great deal of formal education involves self-delusion. Tests, exams, grades, diplomas all reinforce the delusions of mastery. Then there are poor honest devils like Holden and I who are just too honest to play along, to "fake it until you make it".

It makes me very suspicious and paranoid.

It makes me want to scream.

I look at the physics books and realize that it will take me several years ... and a good year, most likely, before I even motivate myself to start. I've had a few false starts already.

One almost envies those who just say they're not "good at math" or those who just resign themselves to alcoholic oblivion.

I want to allow the "inner Artaud" to speak, if I may be so spontaneous: I despise all those who are responsible for projecting a social hierarchy on levels of mathematics.

I want so badly for a professor of some advanced mathematics course to openly admit that most of his students are self-deluded egotists who would be just as challenged going over some of the more difficult exercises found in less advanced mathematics courses.

Holden, I have an idea for our own private school of mathematical philosophy. It will be disguised as a joke, as it must be. We can refer to ourselves as Mathematical Defamiliarists.

What do you think my "problem" is, Holden? I ask you, with all honesty and sincerity.

I seem to be able to hold my own with whatever I decide to study, but by experimenting with "going back to more fundamental and elementary topics", I see that I have a low frustration tolerance. I get frustrated when computations are too [easy] mechanical, but I become equally frustrated when I draw a blank when asked to write a formal proof.

In another post you mention Heidegger. I have absolutely no patience for any obfuscators.

When people write mathematics textbooks, they are most likely using other mathematics texts as guides.

No one seems to be willing to expose what we really are when presenting material.

Let me be perfectly clear about Defamiliarizing mathematics.

All one needs to do in order to experience this is to pick up a math text meant for advanced high school students, and work through the exercises. Pay special attention to the more difficult problems ...

Then imagine the act of coitus and how many will pride themselves on replicating their DNA. It is a cruel joke.

We are slime programmed to ejacu-late, and an understanding of mathematical ideas does nothing to ensure one's survival as an organism.

So I am applying a term preserved for the artists, defamiliarization.

When applied to one's personal efforts to educate oneself, this will either lead deeper into insanity (a religion of one) or will have a liberating effect, serving as an antidote against the Delusion of Acquired Knowledge.

Rather than saying you are "slow with mathematics", you can declare yourself to be a "Mathematical Defamiliarist"!

You understand my sick sense of humor, right?

I am kind of mocking all the complicated jargon.

Do you remember Cioran's comment about the kind of aphorisms he wanted to produce?

He wanted something that could be explained to a drunkard or whispered into the ear of a dying man.

We all die like animals, hopefully not run over by a motor vehicle, but this is quite probable.

Why does this animal study mathematics? What is "advanced mathematics"?

If "advanced mathematics" is taught in a high school, does this mean it ought to be easier than "elementary mathematics" taught in a college? WTF!

Aha ... do you see what I am getting at here?

Madness!!!!

This is exactly the kind of ego-deflating situation I wanted to force myself into.

You know, when I would run into some frustrating confusion working on heavy duty integrals, I could still comfort myself saying to myself, "Well, this is integral calculus!"

I guess I wanted to work with this old "Modern Introductory Analysis" text from my suicidal high school days so that I could face the anxiety of running into confusion even with something more basic, simply because it is presented in such a formal manner.

Holden! Do you realize what a break through this kind of approach could be?

Rather than studying mathematics to "become smarter", one might study mathematics to "feel more stupid", even if one is becoming smarter the stupider one feels and stupider the smarter one feels.

Am I making any sense? It's as though I enjoy the process of discovering just how thin of a grasp I have. There is this great relief to face that I don't really understand all that much. There is something refreshing about this realization.

Maybe I study math because I like to feel stupid. What I mean is, part of me longs to be in touch with reality, and not to be deluded. Maybe feeling stupid is a sign of a special sort of intelligence. The converse might also be true: those who feel very smart may just be deluded.

Up is down and down is up. The Inversion Principle?

This could be called a kind of "gospel of defamiliarization."

AFTER-THOUGHT: Once again, I catch myself using this word, "stupid", when a more accurate term would be "disoriented".

Once I get passed the ego, I experience a subtle thrill in the realization that I am learning something new. It is particularly thrilling due to the fact that this is a textbook I don't remember learning anything from when it was our book senior year in high school. As I have confided several times already, I experienced an existential meltdown that year, what must have been an actual nervous breakdown.

So, all these years later, my humility is rewarded. It took great humility to pause from working through "multivariable calculus", to forget about physics for awhile, and to commit myself to this strange mathematical engagement with the old "New Math" presented in Dolciani's "Modern" Introductory Analysis.

I don't know how to explain this thrill, but I do know that I would keep all this to myself if it were not for the kind encouragement Holden has given me.

I remember a couple years ago, when I could barely sober up enough to walk into the public library without causing a disturbance, I was communicating with Holden.

He would repeatedly urge me to get back into mathematics.

So, you see, I have to remove myself from the mentality of "high school vs community college vs state university vs ivy league".

I am in competition with no one. The beast within me is the honest one, and it is he that has the beginner's mind, it is he who is learning. The false ego who would prefer to run before we can walk, well, he must be overthrown if the beast in me is to study in peace.

Yes, I know there are more important things I am obligated to be concerned about, but, for the moment, I am caught up in my own little drama, content in my little cell in the penal colony of existence.

What do you think about this idea of de-familiar-ization?