Please note: Given the amount of content I planned, I have decided to split this topic into two blogs. The purpose of this week’s blog is simply to stimulate the audience’s interest in the mathematician’s point of view. Next week’s blog will focus on specific stories of mathematicians.
“Mathematicians, who are only mathematicians, have exact minds, provided all things are explained to them by means of definitions and axioms; otherwise, they are inaccurate and insufferable, for they are only right when the principles are quite clear.” – Blaise Pascal
Everyday Joes with a passion for precision who modern society depicts as elitists of intelligence.
To compensate for last blog’s rigorous mathematical exercises, I plan to leap into the history books to analyze individuals who solely devoted their time to the art of mathematics. More particularly, I plan to examine the lives of three brilliant mathematicians who fall just shy of the public ear. You, being a very bright and resourceful individual, may be familiar with one (or more) of these mathematicians, but for now, I leave them a mystery. (I will say that, if you are expecting a historical dissertation of Albert Einstein or Sir Isaac Newton, you will be disappointed. I have specifically picked lesser-known mathematicians for this undertaking.)
As mentioned, today, I feel it important to discuss why mathematicians are the way they are. In other words, why is it that some individuals in our society find it fascinating to study the extremely abstract field of mathematics? Answering this question will build an understanding of the mathematician’s point of view, which is critical if one wants to understand his story.
As I mentioned in one of my response comments last week, mathematics renders emotions that harken back to our origins. We started with counting herds of animals and have since gravitated towards weird abstractions such as ϕ or sqrt(2). Fundamentally, the subject at heart remains unchanged, but the study has evolved with our society over centuries, years, weeks, and even seconds. In fact, as you read this blog right now, it is very likely that someone somewhere in the world is making a new contribution to the study of mathematics.
Because of math’s inability to regress, we as human beings continuously expand it with each generation. To add to the subject, therefore, is a tradition, equivalent to the passing of the torch in the Olympics. Every single one of us has our hands on that torch. We all run our own part of the race when we use mathematics in our daily activities (for instance, when we balance our checkbooks). It is the mathematician, humble and filled with pride, who consciously decides to run the longest stretch in this traditional process. They are not elitists, nor are they any more intelligent than you or me. They are just normal people who are compelled by some unexplainable force to add to our heritage by prompting sustained mathematical inquiries. Fundamentally speaking, mathematicians do what they do because they have a desire to make impressions on our heritage, on our mathematics.
For reasons quite obvious, such dedication to the mathematical arts tolls a hefty price on one’s life. By studying stories of mathematicians, we can uncover their innermost struggles and come to empathize better with their extensive efforts to the study of mathematics. In doing so, we may also learn more about ourselves and our struggles in life. In that respect, when we learn more about ourselves, we come to the understanding that we are not much different from the mathematician. Our aspirations may differ, but our intentions to defend our heritage remain unscathed.
So, to close, as you make your way through the reading next week, I want you to keep in mind the mathematician’s point of view that I have described. Likewise, I want you to consider the quotation I have provided above from Blaise Pascal, a famous mathematician. What might this quote imply about mathematicians outside the field of mathematics? What do you expect from the stories I have waiting for you next week?
To get a fresher perspective of the mathematician, check out Timothy Gower’s speech On the Importance of Mathematics. (I will warn you now; it is very lengthy. However, you need not read the whole work to understand his perspective as a mathematician. It arises naturally.)