Mathematicians struggle for truth

The following letter was in response to the article by Boyd Tonkin in the Independent , Aug 15, 2005, and was published on Aug17, 2005.


Seeing Boyd Tonkin's article on 'Magic numbers' (15 August) I thought, as a mathematician, I ought to step aside from my 'essentially tragic life', not 'look at my shoes', stop 'struggling with my demons' awhile, and suggest that perhaps a wrong impression is given of mathematics as a development of just a few strange and egocentric minds. Instead it is a world-wide collaborative effort involving tens of thousands, struggling to understand, to see what is true and why it is true, and in so doing to develop a language and notation for description, verification, deduction, and calculation. It describes structures and analogies. It makes difficult things easy. So it is a basis for the modern technical world.

Mathematics can also take over for its study what Shakespeare claimed for the role of the poet:

'And as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown

The Poet's pen turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.'

All this explains its fascination, and the joy of communicating at all levels in the subject.



The article was mainly about a conference organised by Thales and Friends, whose aims agree with many of ours!

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