Imagine

There is an interesting story told about David Hilbert, a German mathematician considered by many to be one of the fathers of mathematical logic. One day he noticed that a particular student hadn’t been showing up for class. He inquired as to why this student had vanished and was told that the young man had decided to give up his studies in math to concentrate on becoming a poet. Hilbert replied, “I can’t say I’m surprised. I never thought he had enough imagination to be a mathematician.”

This is the first post I’ve ever written while on campus. I’m up to my eyeballs in Symbolic Logic homework and preparation for a midterm on Friday and I must confess – my imagination is being stretched way beyond the proverbial breaking point. Math isn’t supposed to be about the imagination. It’s about numbers and formulas and having only one right answer at the end of the day. Not so, I am learning. Slowly. And this morning I feel a bit like the embodiment of Darwin’s idea of a mathematician, “a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat which isn’t there.”

And yet, I see beauty where I never imagined there to be any. To work a proof and come out on the other side with something that makes a modicum of sense, even if only to myself, feels . . . dare I say . . . good. Like I’m boldly going where no man has gone before. Well, at least to a place where I’ve never been before. And when I sit my pencil down and take a much-deserved break, I remember the words of former Mensa president Buckminster Fuller who claimed, “When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty. I only think about how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”

And I can’t help but smile at the craziness of it all. Learning feels good, after all. It’s liberating on so many levels. As publisher Malcolm Forbes once said, “Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” I’ll take that any day . . .

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get crackin’ . . .

[photo credit]

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15 thoughts on “Imagine

  1. The only math I’ve ever enjoyed is Geometry…it’s something I can see and use and it’s beautiful. The rest of math just doesn’t make any sense to me.

    I admire math minded people. My oldest and youngest are math/science minded. They must have gotten it from their dad.

  2. My son is getting his first degree in Math, followed closely by Mech.Eng., so I’m sure he would agree with you about math. The other night at dinner, he went through a problem with me, writing it out on the paper that covered the tablecloth. It was a proof from his Number Theory course. The waitress just kept gazing into the array of numbers spread across the table as she served our food.

    We are anything by ordinary 🙂

    I wish you well as you hit the books….enjoy – D

  3. I never got to the beauty part of Mathematics but have known some who talk about it as I would a great play, movie or book.

    So, I’m impressed you’ve apparently absorbed enough to feel it! It kept bouncing off me. Good luck with your exam.

  4. Symbolic Logic…. Mathmatical poetry….. my head just exploded. You have my complete and utter respect. They lost me when they started sticking the letters of the alphabet into my math problems.

  5. math creative?

    I must not have gotten to those higher levels.

    I have always loved math because of it’s perfection and consistency. black and white.

    2 + 2 is always 4…

    no matter what your parents did to you,
    what the educational system didn’t teach you,
    what society didn’t do to help you,

    well, you get the point-

    there are NO excuses…

    Can you tell I am a social worker ? LOL

  6. Math makes me hurl. It always has. I get anxious and snappy and completely freaked out when I have to face math of any kind.
    But you made me remember something. I do remember how awesome it felt to sit down with a problem and work it out. Pages of numbers and symbols later, to have the answer and know it was right was absolutely glorious.
    But it never made me feel good enough to want to face that crap again. 😉

  7. I’m a math geek at heart. Always have been. On my teaching course everyone seems to have a sociology degree. This makes me and my immunology degree (plus other sundry qualifications) seem like the reincarnation of Newton. Our science tutor makes things worse by being incapable of telling anybody what the correct answers to problems are. In mechanical physics there are right answers. Sorry tutor lady.

    The net result of all this is that I was reduced to standing up halfway through a seminar and announcing ‘those of you who want the right answer, see me afterwards’.

    My tutor doesn’t like me anymore. 🙂 But as I pointed out, that’s her fault for being a complete dumbass.

  8. The brain is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets.

    Unfortunately for me, I’m not very maths inclined but for my wife it’s the field that she labours in her job as a finite element analyst who models computational fluid dynamics. So my enjoyment of maths is vicarious but I can see how it can be beautiful.

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