Four years ago I was standing in the school staffroom with an English teacher friend sipping a cup of coffee. It was break time and he was excitedly reciting lines from some of the ‘beautiful’ poems his students had given in for homework. After listening with some interest, I was caught off-guard when he asked me to explain why mathematics is beautiful…
To provide some context, I’m a maths teacher who fritters away a large proportion of my time reading popular maths books, trying new problems (and often failing), and attempting to persuade anyone who needs to be convinced that maths is absolutely brilliant. Whilst my family no longer bother to listen to my ramblings (this would be as good a time as any to apologise to my wife – sorry, I can’t help it!), I do continue to talk about everything and anything that excites my mathematical imagination on a daily basis.
Anyway, back to the main point. He asked me why it’s beautiful and I’m ashamed to say that I did an awful job of capturing even a small part of why it is. I gave a few standard examples far removed from his experience, and then slowly started to see that familiar glazed-over-look as if he was trying desperately to appear interested, whilst internally cursing himself for asking the question to begin with.
That moment began a four-year process of thinking predominantly about two questions:
What is mathematical beauty?
Can anyone experience it?
It’s been an exciting ride to say the least and I’m now as ready as I’ll ever be to start writing about it. I’d like to take you on a journey through the wonderful world of mathematical beauty, to develop a deeper understanding of what it is, and to introduce you to some interesting creatures and landmarks along the way.
The people I have in mind for this tour are teachers of mathematics or students that have an understanding up to IB Diploma/A-Level/AP, who I then hope will be more equipped to explain mathematical beauty better than I was four years ago. There’s a fabulous world out there just waiting to be uncovered, and I’m looking forward to travelling through it with you…
- Fantastic beasts: Imaginary and Complex Numbers [Published 26.12.2018]
- Mathematical Pathways: Patterns and the Nature of Mathematics [Published 20.01.2019]
- Patterns, Intuition and Enlightenment: The Towers of Hanoi [Published 19.02.2019]
- Why no one can argue that mathematics is not inherently beautiful, even if they themselves do not experience that beauty [Published 13.04.2019]
- Criteria for Mathematical Beauty [Published 26.06.2019]