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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Calculus Is Beautiful...

As someone who has diddly artistic talent I often think that working artists literally perceive the world differently than those of us who don't do art… I suspect a painter or drawer may actually see his/her subject differently than the way my eyes see it.
And perhaps the same is true for those of us who love mathematics… we perceive the world, or at least think about it, differently than those who fear or dislike math… the 'beauty' of math (as I've noted often before) is obvious to some and oblivious to others.

Evelyn Lamb has a transcribed interview over at her Scientific American blog with two female mathematicians (in the field of dynamical systems), Laura DeMarco and Amie Wilkinson. So many great responses, especially if you're interested in the experience of female mathematicians. Please give it a read. But here's a small excerpt that touches on the 'beauty' aspect (as related to calculus) that always catches my attention:

Lamb: Are there any math topics that are particularly appealing or beautiful for you?

Wilkinson: I like calculus a lot, probably because I learned it when I was young, and I learned it well. To me, it’s always comforting to use calculus to do something. The invention of calculus was certainly revolutionary.

DeMarco: A conceptual breakthrough.
        Wilkinson: It’s funny, because it’s like we just toss it out there to high   
        school students, and I think a lot of them have no idea of the beauty.  

        DeMarco: What the ideas really were.
Wilkinson: Certainly some of the most beautiful mathematics I’ve learned is just calculus.
DeMarco: It’s funny you mention calculus. I don’t think I really appreciated it until I taught it as a graduate student. I was lecturing to these first-year students. I was just wowed by this subject. I had this moment of, holy cow, this is really beautiful! I remember my grandmother asking me what I was thinking about these days. I said, “Well, I’m teaching calculus right now, and you know what, calculus is really beautiful.” She said, “OK, Laura, what is calculus? Can you just tell me in 20 minutes, what is calculus?” And it was just the greatest thing to have this opportunity to just sit down with my grandmother, of all people, and tell her.
This section happened to strike a chord for me, but if you're a female and interested in mathematics there are so many other passages that will be of special interest, so do check out the whole interview (...and guys can read it too; I did ;-):


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