Mention math while interacting with a group of people and the very next instant you will notice a blank look on everyone’s face. This only goes on to prove the fact that much of the world’s population lacks math literacy despite the subject’s importance in day-to-day lives. It is a reality that the universe that we inhabit runs on math but what is also a reality is that for most people, math is a mystical language that can only be understood by a precious few.
Given the intricate way in which math is woven into the fabric of the world, it is time to make an effort to understand the subject and demystify it to the point of comprehension. And what could be a better way to make a start than to dig into how it came about in the first place?
Math as a Natural Phenomenon
Galileo, an accomplished Italian mathematician and scientist who lived during the 14th and 15th centuries and is responsible for many of the earliest theories and explanations, regarded math as being the language of God. The surreal nature of this subject was further propounded by Plato, a renowned Greek philosopher, who claimed via his Platonic theory that math was the key to understanding the workings of the universe.
From this it draws that existence of math is independent of human beings. It was probably there as part of nature long before human beings arrived and will probably continue to evolve even after extinction.
Math as a Man-Made Tool
Yet another theory regards math as being an abstract subject which is relatively free from time and space constraints. Popular theories which support this notion are –
• Logistic theory, which believes that math came into being by stretching of reasoning and logic that is inherent to human beings
• Intuitionist theory, which regards math to be a system of mental constructs that share consistency
• Formalist theory, which defines math as a set of symbols devised and manipulated by human beings
• Fictionalist theory, which equates math with fairy tales
Overwhelming that each of these theories might be, they reflect an attempt to describe and explain a subject that has eluded most of mankind through generations.
In the contemporary era, math is one of the most vital aspects of the so-called ‘theory of everything’ which is a unified theory meant to explain physical reality in its entirety. According to Max Tegmark, a well-known cosmologist, math is a human invention which describes the universe and can even expand and contract it. As per his theory, when viewed in mathematical terms, the universe could be as gigantic that it is or could be constricted to a size so as to fit into a T-shirt.
Kurt Godel, an Austrian mathematician, came up with a theory sometime during the twentieth century that challenges Tegmark’s theory and propounds that although mathematical statements are true, they cannot be proved by using math.
When was the last time you sat down with a pen and paper to solve a mathematical problem? If it is something that you have been avoiding, you might as well get down to it since math is an important part of our function even though it manages to overwhelm us and is difficult to fathom.
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