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This book attempts to pull back the curtain of the mystery of mathematics. I was successfully both educated and entertained. This book is about symmetries and dualities both in mathematics and ultimately in the world we live in. Who knew the Henry David Thoreau saw the connection between math and love (our world).
“The most distinct and beautiful statement of any truth must take at last the mathematical form. We might so simplify the rules of moral philosophy, as well as of arithmetic, that one formula would express them both.”
While Frenkel doubts a single formula can explain ‘everything’ he has convinced me that mathematical formulas are some of the “purest, most versatile, most economical expressions of truth know to mankind.” Mathematics is a field of discovery and not a field of human invention. Mathematics discoveries are objective truths about the world that are true no matter who or where you are in the universe and in fact it doesn’t matter if there is a ‘you' at all.
This book was challenging to read. I don’t pretend to have grasped all the math parts. Some became clearer with Frenkel’s guidance. Many I read, letting the words wash over me and the ideas slip in were they would, not worrying about ideas too big. I also can’t pretend not to be moved by the love parts of the book. Frenkel’s biography is full of drama and his luck at meeting the right people at the right time is uncanny. His love of math and the exploration is infectious. He insists that math is democratic and being aware of this importance is a key to a rich and fulfilling live and that the way math is taught is a problem. He likes to say that if we had been taught art by just painting a fence and never shown the works of the masters, later in life you’d hate art and you’d say you were no good at it and it was not worth much. This is how we are taught math. Never exposed to the great discoveries and their relevance.
I am grateful for being exposed by Frenkel and others to mathematics great discoveries and their relevance.
Here are some relevant links:
How our 1,000-year-old math curriculum cheats America's kids Op-Ed in The Los Angeles Times
Why do people hate mathematics? Short Video
All things Frenkel Berkeley