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Beautiful mathematics

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Edited by Vicky Fraser, Thursday, 24 Mar 2011, 18:53

I am a well-known hater of mathematics, largely because of my (perceived) lack of ability. So it came as some surprise to me that I am very much enjoying Book 3: Energy and Light of S104: Exploring Science.

Algebra is the topic in hand, and we’ve gone right back to basics.

I would quite like this t-shirt.

I remember, as a small child, that in junior school I and several other bright (read geeky) kids were part of an algebra group. The headmaster had a little maths geek set going on, and I was IN. It wasn’t the best school in the world, and the town was... well... provincial. An ex-mining town, very working class, with fewer aspirations flying around than I or my parents would like.

However, I believe that this school (Stockingford Middle School) and this teacher (sadly I cannot remember his name) did me a great service: they stoked my interest in science, and planted in me a very deeply buried love of maths. Or at least, the beauty of maths.

I wasn’t to know, yet, that algebra could enable you to produce very cool images, such as the one on the right...


It stayed buried for a long, long time. Throughout senior school, I loathed maths - partly, I suspect, due to an uninspiring teacher who was convinced I’d fail my GCSE (I got a B) - and partly because I just convinced myself it was too difficult, and I couldn’t do it.

Enter the Open University, S104, Book 3. They really do start at the basics, and I remember more than I thought, so I’m powering through the work; spinning through the vast, echoing spaces in my mind with equations creating beautiful symmetry all around.

Or something similar...

In the beginning...

There is something very calming and aesthetically pleasing about rearranging equations. I like balance, and order, and that is what an equation is. Balance. Yes, it’s simple; but I’m enjoying it. And what’s more, I’m looking forward to the more complex stuff...

Maths is everywhere. Nature, science, art, beauty... Poetry, according to Betrand Russell, who said this:

“Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty - a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as poetry.”

He’s right, too. I’m just beginning to understand why maths is so important, how it is a part of everything in the Universe, and appreciate its purity and its sublime beauty.

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