It’s been a long time since I’ve added to the blog, and I figured there would be no better way to get back in the game than simply talking about some of my reasons for loving math. We all have different reasons for loving this subject, or we may not even love the subject at all. But, since one of the aims of this site is to present some reasons for loving the subject, or to increase the number of such reasons, I figured I’d make my own small contribution here.
There are lots of reasons why I love this subject, and that’s why I’ve included the “Pt. 1” in the title, to imply that there will be parts X with X greater than 1 to follow. For this first episode in the series, however, I’d like to focus not on the beauty of math, the logic involved, or the rigor, but rather the travel.
Mathematics provides the cheapest form of travel to some of the most beautiful locations the Universe has to offer, and these trips can be taken at just about any time of year.
Let me be clear though: I’m not talking about the kind of travel that the world’s best mathematicians get offered, which is to various top-ranked universities around the world and which is therefore only available to those select few semi-divine minds that put the rest of us mere mortals to shame. Instead, I’m talking about the kind of travel that mathematics offers all of us more modest practitioners of the field—those of us who will likely not have any equations written on our tombstone.
I first fell in love with the travel that math affords when I lived in New York and spent a lot of time on subways. Spending an hour on a crowded NYC subway in the middle of summer is often not the most enjoyable experience, so I would often take that time to take an hour-long mathematical journey. Knowledge of math, along with a little knowledge of physics, allowed me to travel to the edge of a black hole and take a look at what’s going on, or into the workings of a single electron and ponder its behavior, or into the very beginnings of our universe and try to imagine how it looked back then, instead of worrying about the hairy man standing a little too close to me or staring at the high school couple making out just slightly too passionately to be suitable for any public arena. Even without drawing upon any knowledge of physics, I have used math to take some great trips to higher dimensions and/or wild geometries and/or counterintuitive algebraic structures.
By taking these trips I have saved myself a lot of the frustration that comes along with waiting in traffic, or standing in line, or sitting in a boring lecture (don’t tell my undergrad anthropology professor about that, though). I have used my mathematical travels to help me get through some of my physical travels, as plane and train rides are all made much more bearable when you can take a little journey within a journey.
Now one should be careful about traveling too much. Cruising down the 101 at 80 mph is probably not the best time to take a trip into noncommutative geometries, and sitting across the table of a job interviewer or a first date is probably not the ideal time to travel into categorical quantum mechanics. There’s no doubt, though, that when used properly the travel afforded by knowing some math can really come in handy in some of life’s more mundane experiences, infusing them with same fire that lit the stars (to quote David Foster Wallace)—quite literally.
To finish, let me just say that this travel is completely free, always available, and requires minimal packing time. In fact, I would argue that by simply reading the lessons here one can gather enough miles to start taking some pretty cool trips to non-Abelian groups and new set-theoretic paradoxes. As the lessons continue to increase in number, I hope some of you cherished readers can continue to find some new and exotic locations to travel to next time you’re at the bank waiting in line to argue about some recent credit card transactions.