June 19, 2013
I’ve recently been reading (and watching and listening to) everything I can find here at MCPL about the intersection of philosophy, physics, and mathematics. In my own personal educational experience, I first found math to consist mainly of interesting puzzles that could be fun to solve at times, maddening at others. However, as my studies in the sciences continued, I began to see something much deeper: mathematics is the language of the universe and equations can have beauty. I even have a favorite equation, eiπ + 1 = 0.
Yes, I’m waxing poetic about math, and I’d like to invite you to join me in exploring the world of mathematics. I promise that higher mathematics is far more interesting than multiplication tables or the quadratic equation. You don’t have to have an advanced degree to see the beauty of mathematics. You don’t have to fully understand the in-depth arcana of topology of n-dimensional manifolds in order to be appreciate the link between Mobius strips, Klein bottles, the flat torus space of the classic arcade game Asteroids, and the shape of the universe; or a set theorist to be amazed by the fact that some infinite sets are larger than other infinite sets!
Great writing about mathematics isn’t just limited to nonfiction. One obvious place in fiction for mathematics is in science fiction. However, mathematics also pops up in thrillers and mysteries as well. Even more surprisingly, mathematics sometimes finds its way into literary fiction. Perhaps the most famous case is that of Jose Luis Borges, whose works are filled with explicit explorations of mathematical concepts like infinity. Here are a few titles I'd suggest as starter books for anyone who is interested in the "queen of sciences."
- Infinite Ascent: a Short History of Mathematics by David Berlinski
- The Joy of X : a Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity by Steven Strogatz
- Geekspeak: How Life + Mathematics = Happiness by Graham Tattersall
- Coincidences, Chaos, and all that Math Jazz : Making Light of Weighty Ideas by Edward Burger
- The Book of Numbers: the secret of numbers and how they changed the world by Peter J. Bentley
- The Mαth βook: from Pythagoras to the 57th dimension, 250 Milestones in the History of Mathematics by Clifford A. Pickover
- Π : a Biography of the World's Most Mysterious Number by Alfred S. Posamentier,
- Everything and More: a Compact History of Infinity by David Foster Wallace
- Is God a Mathematician? by Mario Livio
- Nature’s Numbers: the Unreal Reality of Mathematics by Ian Stewart
- Flatland: a Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott
The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano
The Library of Babel by Jose Luis Borges
To infinity and beyond,
Image credit: "Mathematics *Explore April 24, 2013 #4* (at one time)" by Flickr user Tom_Brown 6117 via the Creative Commons.