Sunday, February 15, 2009

Letters to a Young Mathematician

"... [Paul] Erdős reckoned that in Heaven, God has a book that contained all the
best proofs... In his view, a mathematicians job was to sneak a look over God's
shoulder and pass on the beauty of his creation to the rest of His creatures." (p. 93)

Ian Stewart's book, Letters to a Young Mathematician, is a series of mentoring letters to a girl named Meg as she journeys through her mathematical career- undergraduate school, then graduate, then as she becomes a professor herself. I picked it up because I wanted to be sure of the path I'm headed before I start university.

After reading the book, I'm more sure than ever. As he explains, secondary school math is more accurately named arithmetic in comparison to the real mathematics that explore nature. It's necessary, but unfortunately not as awe-inspiring as the golden ratio. A lot of people have asked me why I'm interested in studying mathematics, and I have a hard time explaining to them which parts interest me, because I have not yet been exposed to too much. However, what I have... I like. In it he spends a great deal of time focusing on mathematical appearances in everyday life, proofs (in particular, Wiles's proof for Fermat's Last Theorem),

So, to all my friends, if you'd like to understand me, read this book. In my copy, I've circled the chapters that would explain my reasons to non-mathematicians (but if you're not really interested in mathematics, the others would likely put you to sleep). It even has a neat chapter about Houston's bayous (upon which I went on a glorious walk the other day). I think it's a pretty well written book, and it helped me feel more secure in my decision, so mission accomplished.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

I guess this is the important point between your perspective on math and mine. My proof-based algebra class absolutely destroyed me, and while I believe that it's far more interesting than high school math, it's not something I could quite get into. I enjoy the stuff I'm doing now with proofs in formal languages and computation, but mathematical structures are something else. But I'm glad you like it, because apparently that's what real math is.