Monday, 1 June 2015

The Beauty of Mathematics

by Henry Ling

Mathematics is beautiful. Many people on seeing maths for the first time, believe it to be boring, malevolent and pointless. Many people in this world dismiss maths, complain about its complex nature, and drop it in school as soon as possible. However we cannot do this, maths is too beautiful to merely dismiss and reject. Our whole world runs on mathematics, from the cells within your body to the screen by which you are reading this article. A world without mathematics is no world at all. Much beauty in the real world has its roots in mathematics, for example the dimensions for the (supposedly) most aesthetically pleasing person can be represented by the golden ratio (see above). What I find interesting though is why so many people hate maths, having spoken to many people I have come to the conclusion that it comes down to three key reasons, it’s hard, it’s boring, and it’s pointless.

Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa - and the golden ratio

Is maths hard? Well this of course varies from person to person but let me just say getting a true and deep understanding of maths can take a lifetime. Mathematics is a language through which one uses a vast array of symbols and is bounded by logical reasoning and like any language it takes much time and practice to perfect. Even top mathematicians can make trivial mistakes and can become stuck with certain questions, so do not be disheartened if you find it hard, you will never be the only one. We must also remember that perseverance is key to anything one does, if all the great mathematicians, scientist and artists gave up at the first hurdle, our world would be a very dull and boring one, and our cognitive thought will barely surpass that of cavemen. However I do understand that there are people in this world who find it much more difficult to cope in the number world, and if one doesn’t watch their step they can quite easily become very lost. I am a man who, you probably guessed by now, enjoys maths to the nth degree, for me I can understand the concepts and ideas placed before me, but trying to truly understand maths may be beyond me, the length and depth of maths stretches to infinity and from where I am standing it isn’t converging anytime soon.

Many claim maths to be boring. I of course would have to disagree, but then again I would. The problem I think people find is that the maths that we are taught from an early age, on the whole, tend to be more boring. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, in a world full of calculators and computers what is the use of those functions? Well arguable not a lot, but everyone should know about the basic building blocks of maths, because they are the basic building blocks of the universe. I do understand that the mathematics up until sixth form isn’t the most riveting mathematics in the world, but “you can’t make an omelette without cracking an egg”. The other thing people object to, is that maths is just a bunch of letters and numbers. People find maths boring because they think it lacks beauty and elegance, however this is fundamentally not true. Mathematics is very elegant, the idea of proofs and theorems, finding symmetry and patterns, and the beauty that takes place whence you’ve spent 50 minutes on one question and it all comes together at the end despite an absolute mess in the middle, is phenomenal. Moreover some of the most beautiful paintings and patterns in the world can all be described using mathematics. It has been proven by Fedorov and Schönfilies that there are 17 “wallpaper groups”, that is to say there are 17 groups to represent the ways all patterns can propagate through 2 dimensional and 3 dimensional space. Every pattern from mosaics in ancient Greece to carpets in Turkey can be represented in these such ways. And as I have mentioned earlier, mathematics crops up all over the natural world, through number sequences like the Fibonacci sequence which in turn links to the golden ratio, seen in areas from flower patterns to body proportions. So maths really is not a boring subject as it defines the world around us, and although people may not consider mathematics to be beautiful a lot of art in the world tries to replicate patterns and sequences which mathematics defines.

And finally is it pointless? I don’t think this warrants a response. One may think maths isn’t useful in ones day to day life just because one has a job which doesn’t require them to know the subject. However everyone, everyday uses mathematics to some degree. For example when reading the time one’s mind is using modular arithmetic to understand this concept, and this becomes especially useful when working out what time it is 2 hrs from now when you have an event or meeting to attend. Moreover our mind is constantly weighing up proportions, we automatically know the difference between 1 apple and 4 apples, and we automatically know we are outnumbered when we see 5 large people approaching us. So mathematics is useful to everyone, regardless of whether one likes it or not. Also it is clearly the one subject which dominates our universe, it becomes especially useful in the field of science and engineering, and nigh on everything in this world can be described in mathematical terms. Finally what one must understand is that all the technology, transport, power, buildings as been perfected by maths. True one can build a house from mud and sticks without doing a degree in mathematics, however the bodies mathematical reasoning will make sure the proportions are suitable and it doesn’t just slope of to one side, so I can assure you maths is in no way pointless.

Whether you are a fan or hater of maths, the amount of effort and thought which people go to, to explain our world and to make the amazing technological advances our world desires is second to none and all of it stems from the realm of Mathematics. Even if you do dislike maths, never ridicule it as a source of beauty and magnificence, for it is the most fabulous feat which this world as formulated to date.

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't agree more - great article!


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