I Love Mathematics
There, I said it. I recently read this Comment Is Free article by Matt Parker about why we need maths. We hear all the time about why we should love maths and why it’s important. We’re reminded that without maths we wouldn’t have computer games, ipads, laser-quest or the delights of Professor Brian Cox’s regular TV appearances. I applaud any attempts to raise the public profile of mathematics and to encourage people, particularly young people, to invest their time and effort in exploring it, but I can’t help feeling that this bombardment of things we wouldn’t have without maths does the subject a massive disservice. Sure, these products and (almost?) all others were developed using physical applications of mathematics, but a passion for the subject is less likely to flourish through an admiration or appreciation for its consequences than it is through an understanding of mathematics at its most pure, its most beautiful and its most fun.
I remember studying a maths module during my degree, in which we learnt about Einstein notation. Albert Einstein (you may have heard of him) was using maths that had been around for years, when he decided to start writing things in a new way. His new method was so elegant and condensed that it drastically simplified calculations and made patterns much easier to spot. Such an elegant solution, I was simultaneously asking myself two very contradictory questions: 1) why on earth had nobody thought of it before? 2) how on earth did anyone come up with it? Safe to say, it blew my mind.
Maths is almost entirely made up – whilst it is easy to conceive how the basics of numbers, addition and subtraction came into being, concepts of integration, percentages, trigonometry and many, many more are entirely unintuitive techniques, that at their conceptions were as original and imaginative as any novel, poem, lyric or artwork. And yet these made-up mathematical theories can be irrevocably proven to be correct in relation to other made-up mathematical theories. And together they just so happen to describe exactly how a large chunk of the world works. I struggle to think of any other field in which there is such scope for imagination alongside an absolute, gratifying truth. And what’s more it can be used for a whole load of good.
I’m currently reading the brilliant Marcus Du Sautoy’s The Music of the Primes, a book about the ongoing struggle of mathematicians through the centuries to discover the secret pattern of prime numbers. I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t a teeeeeeeeeeny, weeeeeeeeny, tiny little miniscule egotistical part of me that thinks, just for a fraction of a fraction of a second, that maybe, in a moment of unrivalled inspiration, I might come up with the solution myself! But that’s what maths is all about – seeing new ways of looking at things, coming up with your own, make-believe tools in the hope that they might just reveal the answer to something very real. I implore you to do it right now. Go do some maths. It’s fun! And if you really need another incentive, how does $1 million dollars sound?