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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Parochial Math

Today's 'Sunday reflection' from Ian Stewart, in "Letters to a Young Mathematician":

"I think human math is more closely linked to our particular physiology, experiences, and psychological preferences than we imagine. It is parochial, not universal. Geometry's points and lines may seem the natural basis for a theory of shape, but they are also the features into which our visual system happens to dissect the world. An alien visual system might find light and shade primary, or motion and stasis, or frequency of vibration. An alien brain might find smell, or embarrassment, but not shape, to be fundamental to its perception of the world. And while discrete numbers like 1, 2, 3, seem universal to us, they trace back to our tendency to assemble similar things, such as sheep, and consider them property: has one of my sheep been stolen?...

"What is mathematics? It is the shared social construct created by people who are aware of certain opportunities, and we call those people mathematicians. The logic is still slightly circular, but mathematicians can always recognize a fellow spirit.

[p.s... also, another new interview up at MathTango this morning!]

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