5 Famous Scientists Who Struggled with Mathematics

Math struggle cover

Mathematics is just like the fundamental forces of our universe, as they are present, essential, and most of us don’t understand them. Though mathematics can deduce each and every aspect of the physical and quantum world, the problem arises that most of us humans just do not have the logical reasoning required to understand complex equations and theorems, we easily grasp the fundamental ideas of maths but as we continue to understand it some of us, including myself, realize it just isn’t for everyone. This may lead us to think that it is a subject best left for scientists, but you’d be surprised to know that even some famous scientists had struggled with this subject.

Reasons why someone struggles with Mathematics

There is a multitude of reasons why one might be facing hardships when it comes to solving math problems.

  • Dyscalculia: Dyscalculia is a learning disability in which one has extreme troubles trying to understand even the basic concepts of mathematics. For example, the concept of similar numbers for different objects as in 4 apples and 4 tables are two different things for them. Though it seems like it would be a rare condition, according to experts it is fairly common but it goes unnoticed as children start to understand this idea sooner or later.
  • Skipping: Unlike other subjects, like literature where you can skip over an entire paragraph and still would be able to easily understand the summary, mathematics works on a very different principle. It is more like a ladder where each and every step is essential if one wants to learn it and understand it. While you can even say patience plays a role here as well, but it is essentially the choice of the individual to skip over the concepts.
  • Uninformed: While a student may become excellent at solving a mathematical equation with a set formula, they fail in the future because they never understood the core of that formula and were fixated to solve the problems. There are very specific reasons and ideas why certain formulas were derived and they are crucial for overall understanding.
  • Practice: Practice is the key to success in life. Regardless if you were a gifted child or perfect at maths, if you fail to practice this over and over again, you’ll lose touch with it and after a while, it would seem unfamiliar to you.

Scientists who had trouble with Mathematics

1. Charles Darwin: An English naturalist, geologist, and biologist. As you might be familiar with his name he is famous for this theory of evolution, on how we evolved to become humans from primates. Though he was a brilliant biologist, who understood life in a very peculiar manner, as for mathematics, he strongly despised it and had developed envy towards it during his schooling years. As stated by himself in his autobiography, he was a slow learner of maths. Despite this, he once again wanted to learn it and even hired a personal tutor to teach him mathematics at his own pace but ultimately he got frustrated and end up not studying it whatsoever. Though he had never invested time in learning it, in later years of his life he stated that his impatience not to see any meaning in algebra was foolish and he should’ve continued to study it.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin leaning against a tree.

2. Michael Faraday: Michael Faraday is known for over 23 different contributions and discoveries in the field of electromagnetism and electrochemistry. He was an experimentalist, he thought science should be something that is understood by everyone and conveyed his ideas in as simple language as he could. Though he was a genius of his time, his work was not taken seriously for the most part. Being a son of a blacksmith in the 18th century didn’t earn him formal education and he was forced to self-educate and most of his theories were discarded as he didn’t have mathematical derivations to back it up. As you can see the way his life was shaped, everything he did was ignored including his idea that light is a form of electromagnetic radiation. Ultimately, James Clerk Maxwell proved his theories correct 18 years after he told them.

Michael Faraday

A photograph of Michael Faraday.

3. Alexander Graham Bell: A Scottish-born scientist, engineer, and inventor who was brilliant from his birth. As he invented his first creation at the age of 12 for his friend Ben Herdman, whose family operated a flour mill, it was the dehusking machine that his neighbors continued to use for years and as a return gift, Ben’s father offered him a shed to continue inventing. Even though he was an engineer, during his high school he had struggled with mathematics and overall had a negative impression of the subject. Although he thoroughly enjoyed intellectual exercise, he was bored with maths, as simply calculating and solving an equation to get to an answer after learning the method was useless to him. Thanks to this approach, his mathematical skills remained below average for most of his life.

Graham Bell calling

Graham Bell making a phone call.

4. E.O. Wilson: Edward Osborne Wilson is an American writer, biologist, and geologist and he has often been nicknamed the New Darwin and called the father of biodiversity. As by these names you can guess he is an exceptional individual who has an extensive understanding of how different species are the way they are and he has contributed so much in the field of evolution and biodiversity. He is best known for his work on ants and if you want to know anything about ants, he is the scientist to follow but as for mathematics, he struggled with it. He himself states that he didn’t pick up algebra till his freshman year and he started learning calculus at the age of 32 with undergraduates about half his age. Among these were his students whom he was teaching evolutionary biology, but he dropped his ego and continued to study mathematics but he stated he was nothing more than a C student.

EO Wilson

E.O. Wilson during an Interview.

5. Thomas Edison: The idea of lightbulb was so brilliant that it became the symbol of the idea itself and it was the creation of Thomas Alva Edison. He also worked with other businessmen like Henry Ford and Harvey S. Flintsone, and his laboratory featured the first film studio as well as he is also known as the creator of motion pictures. Though he was a brilliant man, mathematics was not one of his stronger suits. But unlike other scientists on this list, he actually had a great business mind to overcome his limitations. He stated that if he needs to deduce mathematical equations to carry out a task, he would simply hire a mathematician and which he did for most of his inventions.


A photograph of Thomas Edison.

Ultimately, all of these great minds struggled with these subjects, while some did whatever they could in their power to learn it others simply ignored it. Either way, this shows us that even if one is not good at maths they can still pursue a fulfilling career in science and there is no age of learning.

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