A head for figures

BBC: Mathematics: Why the brain sees maths as beauty
Brain scans show a complex string of numbers and letters in mathematical formulae can evoke the same sense of beauty as artistic masterpieces and music from the greatest composers.

This news won't come as a surprise to anyone who has studied maths in any detail.

When I was studying maths (double-maths, actually) for ‘A’ level, one of our teachers once wrote a fiendish problem on the blackboard for us to work through as a group. “Any ideas?” he asked.

After studying the equation for a couple of minutes, I suggested that we might like to subtract y2 from both sides.

“Why would we want to do that?” asked the teacher, beginning to foam at the mouth.

“Because that will give us an x2 and a minus y2 on the right-hand side. And x2 - y2 is, well… nice.”

The class burst out laughing. But the teacher, whose foam had turned into a real lather by now, gave them a right bollocking, explaining that Carter was right, and that x2 - y2 was indeed nice. In fact, it was beautiful.

This particular maths teacher tended to foam at the mouth rather a lot. I don't think this was down to his passion for mathematics. I suspect it was due to madness. He talked to trees. I know this for a fact, because he told us so. He also used to play opera at us during our maths lessons. Wagner, mostly. Very loudly.

To a mathematician, a beautiful formula is every bit as aesthetically pleasing as a piece of Wagner, a painting, or even an attractive film-star. Indeed, any red-blooded male mathematician worth his salt would be hard-pressed to choose between:

Scarlett Johansson

Euler's equation.

and

Euler's equation

Scarlett Johansson.

Which is why I never became a mathematician.

2 thoughts on “A head for figures

  1. This is very interesting. I also had a Wagnerian mathematics teacher. His name was Mr Smith. Also, I am evidently a red-Blooded mathematician worth his salt, according to your definition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *