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Math is AMAZING and we have to start treating it that way

Eugenia Cheng is the scientist in residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and author, whose latest book is “Beyond Infinity.”

Read her opinion on why math is in need of a makeover.


I would like you to meet a friend of mine. He’s really useful. Wait. That doesn’t make him sound very interesting, does it? Or fun.

Wouldn’t it be better to say, hi, I would like you to meet a friend of mine, she’s amazing, she’s brilliant?

We’d never introduce a friend by saying they’re useful. So, why are we doing that to math? Why do we keep going on about how important it is for everyone to learn math because it’s useful? Has that ever got a young person interested in anything?

I think math is fascinating and fun. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be a mathematician. Some math began life without any sign of practicality. Like, babies, they’re not exactly useful.

For example, Internet cryptography. It means we can do online shopping, online banking, and send e-mails. This comes from some number theory that existed just for its own sake 300 years ago. Most of engineering, medicine, lab science, weather forecasts and technology depends on calculus.

Calculus depends on irrational numbers that the Egyptians started wondering about thousands of years ago. The icosahedron is a satisfyingly symmetrical shape that was dreamt up by ancient Greek mathematicians.


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