Mathematical myths and legends | Math ∞ Weblog

The phrase “arithmetic” comes from the Greek μάθημα (máthema) which means lesson and the verb μαθαίνω (mathéno) which means “to study”. It could possibly be argued that math anxiousness is anxiousness about studying normally however that’s in all probability stretching issues a bit. Though math is usually perceived as the topic of proofs and absolute reality, there are many math myths and math legends. Maybe sufficient for a devoted weblog.

Most of the legends have grow to be a part of historical past, others are historical past within the making. Pappus (“previous man”) of Alexandria is the anonymous large and final of the traditional geometricians. Charles Babbage was the final of the Industrial Revolution arithmetic machine-makers. Who, after watching “A fantastic thoughts” will ever overlook the story of John Forbes Nash, Jr. battling his paranoid schizophrenia, not with tablets however with logic and his profitable a Nobel prize in Financial Science? After which there are the really monumental life sagas of the largely unknown: Srinivasa Ramanujan, Jakow Trachtenberg, Andrew Wiles and Grigori Perelman.

A younger, self-taught Ramanujan, set sail for England in a service provider ship in 1914 simply earlier than the outbreak of WWI and have become the primary Indian to be elected a Fellow of Trinity School, Cambridge simply earlier than the struggle’s finish in 1918. Trachtenberg, imprisoned for 7 years in Nazi focus camps, with out pen or paper, labored mentally and developed pace arithmetic. The arithmetic professor Wiles saved a 7 year-secret, working in recluse day and evening and at last proved the seventeenth Century Fermat’s Final Theorem in 1994. Maybe most mysterious of all of them is Perelman, the Russian genius who posted a collection of eprints to the free arXiv server in 2002, that proved the 1904 Poincaré Conjecture. He continues to dwell in poverty refusing the $1,000,000 Clay Millenium Prize awarded to him. Every of their tales is so spectacular that every one ought to be made right into a film. Then there are the legends we ourselves create. All of us have our private heroes and heroines. Every of them a real legend.

After which there are the maths myths. We’re surrounded by many inspiring minds however the myths appear to linger on. Many have tried to dispel them. Maybe no another that Paul Halmos, a Hungarian-born American mathematician. On the College of Connecticut’s Gallery of Mathematicians, his portrait shares a wall with different nice wizards corresponding to Archimedes, Descartes, Euclid, Galileo and Newton. Not unhealthy, in any respect. However I can hear you saying, “who the hell was he”? Heard of Q.E.D. (“quod erat demonstrandum”)? It’s what mathematicians write on the finish of proof. The extra frequent end-of-proof mark is “∎” which is Unicode image U+220E often known as “the Halmos”. He made elementary advances within the areas of chance principle, statistics, Hilbert areas and algebraic construction of arithmetic and received medals for his capacity to speak arithmetic. His “I Wish to Be a Mathematician: An Automathography” is effectively price a learn.

5 of the commonest math myths are:

  1. The Genius Delusion (that good mathematicians are born with particular math expertise and massive left brains);
  2. The Good Reminiscence Delusion (that good mathematicians have an outstanding reminiscence for formulation);
  3. The Utilizing-Instruments-Is-Dishonest Delusion (that good mathematicians don’t use fingers, toes and calculators);
  4. The Gender Delusion (that good mathematicians are all males regardless of the abundance of feminine bio-statisticians);
  5. The Who Wants it Anyway Delusion (that math is beneficial solely to mathematicians).

However the greatest fantasy of all of them is the “I-Cant-Do-Math Delusion”. I not too long ago taught multivariate calculus to a category of non-mathematicians and social scientists. It wasn’t simply them asking the query “why are we right here”? However an open-mind is a robust adversary. They quickly dusted-off this fantasy in a matter of months. Sure, for some, math is like sorcery. All of us have our superstitions to beat. The excellent news is that we will. Arthur C Clarke who as soon as stated that, “any sufficiently superior know-how is indistinguishable from magic”. If that know-how is born of math then nonetheless miraculous or foreboding it seems, we are going to study to embrace it. Arithmetic – to study. Let’s face our fears, dispel the myths and advance. There are legends to be made.

Dr Michael Taylor (PhD, CPhys)
Nationwide Observatory of Athens &
American College of Athens

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