Friday, April 30, 2010

EVERY Mathematician's lament....

The first thing to understand is that mathematics is an art. The difference between math and the other arts, such as music and painting, is that our culture does not recognize it as such.
So starts a 25 page essay called A Mathematician's Lament, written in 2002 by Peter Lockhart. Certainly, most all mathematicians know this, and it really is this belief that leads us to the obsession with the beauty and general aesthetic quality of mathematics and mathematical research.

Now an expanded version of this essay has been published by Lockhart and Kieth Devlin. I have not read either the original essay or the book yet (I will be shortly). But I am so struck with this early quote and how I often find myself at social situations saying precisely this sort of thing:
"Math is an art. You know, like painting or music...."
Sometimes, some things just speak to you, no? I'll have more when I have read the works.

2 comments:

merc said...

In a similar vein, there's a guy named Steven Strogatz who's been writing a series of weekly columns in the NY Times on the topic of viewing math through a different, "layman's" lens.

He actually chalks his inspiration for the series up to the essay you mentioned, as well as a novel.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/category/steven-strogatz/

Richard Brown said...

See, I knew there was a reason to post on a blog once in a while!

There is so much out there right under our noses that we remain blind to until someone points them out.

Thanks, merc, for the tip. Steven's blog is indeed very interesting and fills what I believe is a sorely needed niche in our society; a gentle presentation of higher math to a general audience.

I will be a frequent visitor.