Wrapping up integrals

I love wrapping presents. I’d like to say it’s because of the warm glow I have inside from giving a gift to someone else — and that feeling is certainly there to an extent — but I’m sorry to say the main reason is because I like the process of wrapping presents itself.

I like putting the present on the paper and making a judgement of how much paper to cut; I like using the scissors like a knife to cut a clean edge; I like folding the edge of the paper so that it looks nice and clean when you fold it over the present; I particularly like the part where you do the fold-in-the-sides-then-fold-up bit on the sides; and most of all I like the part where it’s all finished and your present is neatly encased in a piece of paper just the right shape with all the bits folded in neatly.

Yes, I know I’m weird.

But I reckon I’m not that weird. My daughter at 10 years old, still likes reciting the alphabet, though she learned to do this 6 years ago. My other daughter at 5 years old, will write her name over and over and over and over, seemingly getting pleasure out of the simple act. A musician will sometimes play a song they know well, for the sheer pleasure it, and almost any person will go up to a piano and play chopsticks. Many people I know like the experience of making scrambled eggs, no matter how many times they have done it before.

It seems that all people derive some pleasure in doing things well that they know how to do well, even though they have done it before. There is something about the repetition that gives you a sense of pleasure. Perhaps your brain likes to have the electrical signals pass down the well-worn paths where it’s not so much effort. Perhaps the experience helps you remember the buzz when you learned it for the first time.

I think perhaps the second reason is pretty accurate because I see myself doing it all the time in my work as well: guessing eigenvalues, calculating integrals, adding fractions and drawing conics. I love them all. I jump at the chance to do them with students in the MLC because I love doing them, no matter how many times I’ve done them before. And every time I do them, I remember with pleasure the first time I figured out how to do them myself.

But whatever the reason, I do get pleasure from doing the integral of ex cosh x or (cos x)2 or 1/(x2 – 1) – integrals I have done a hundred times — and it coming out to the answer it ought to. It’s the same pleasure I get from wrapping a present.

Sometimes you just enjoy doing something you know how to do.

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