M.I.B.T.! ....(Math Iz A Beautiful Thang!)
If you're following Sol Lederman's new podcast series over at 'Wild About Math' (that I've been linking to) you know that the question he is using as a jumping off point is, "How is it that some people are inspired by math... and how can we bottle that?" This is a pretty fundamental question that I imagine interests many of us.
For purposes of this blog, I'm less interested in the "bottling" part, which has mostly to do with teaching math and introducing it to young people in particular -- very important subjects, but ones dealt with (and debated over) by a great many other Websites already, without me entering the fray. But I am interested in why so many people can easily recognize the beauty of a piece of music or art, yet only a small subset seem moved by the beauty (granted, it's less sensory, more abstract/cerebral) of mathematics. An old, well-worn clip from Richard Feynman touches on the matter, and most of you have probably seen it, but as I always say, you just can't watch Feynman too often, sooooo:
(As an aside, I've never read a bad biography of Feynman, but I just finished last year's volume from Lawrence Krauss, entitled "Quantum Man," and it is particularly good and recommended.)
Anyway, the question Sol is posing to some well-known/recognized mathematicians I think probably has interesting answers from all manner of folk who find mathematics inspiring. I don't have nearly the readership of Sol (so don't know that I'll draw much response!), and I don't mean to steal his thunder, but thought I'd just use this post to open up the question to all math fans who care to express themselves: what is it about math that you find beautiful/inspiring, or what initially attracted you to it, whether that was at the age of 5 or 10 or 20 or much later? (...Did it involve a specific teacher, parent, class, book, or problem, or just seem innate?) -- express your views in the comments. (I'm especially interested to see what elements are common to many people, versus to what degree everyone's experience is a little different?)....