How to Fall In Love With Math

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Perhaps legendary Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős said it best, "If numbers aren't beatiful, I don't know what is."

Math is beautiful, but it does have an image problem, as University of Maryland mathematics professor and author Manil Suri lamented that people see math as a skill solely for practical use (and a hard skill to master at that), rather than something of beauty:

Think of it this way: you can appreciate art without acquiring the ability to paint, or enjoy a symphony without being able to read music. Math also deserves to be enjoyed for its own sake, without being constantly subjected to the question, “When will I use this?”

Sadly, few avenues exist in our society to expose us to mathematical beauty. In schools, as I’ve heard several teachers lament, the opportunity to immerse students in interesting mathematical ideas is usually jettisoned to make more time for testing and arithmetic drills. The subject rarely appears in the news media or the cultural arena. Often, when math shows up in a novel or a movie, I am reminded of Chekhov’s proverbial gun: make sure the mathematician goes crazy if you put one in. Hanging thickly over everything is the gloom of math anxiety.

What, then, can interest people in math? Suri suggested we take a look at the Big Bang of number, a "magic trick" of how mathematics can create something out of nothing. Behold, the origin of numbers:

... harnessing emptiness to create the number zero, then demonstrating how from any whole number, one can create its successor. One from zero, two from one, three from two — a chain reaction of numbers erupting into existence. I still remember when I first experienced this Big Bang of numbers. The walls of my Bombay classroom seemed to blow away, as nascent cardinals streaked through space. Creatio ex nihilo, as compelling as any offered by physics or religion.

Read the rest over at The New York Times: Link

See also: Math T-shirts from the NeatoShop

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