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The Math Life: Mathematicians and Science Essay

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Updated: Aug 26th, 2021

The reality of life is such that often people’s judgments are greatly influenced by the stereotypes that are prevalent in society. The same goes for people’s treatment of mathematicians. These scientists usually get the image that leaves much to be desired. This paper is concerned with the works that help to ruin the negative stereotypes that people have about mathematicians and science as a whole.

David E. Zitarelli in his article Towering Figures in American Mathematics, 1890-1950 dwells on the differences between the state of mathematics in America in 1890 and 1950. This paper analyzes the main features of the dramatic transformation of science during this period by the example of lives and activities of six mathematicians, E.H. Moore, O.Veblen, G.D. Birkhoff, R.L. Moore, N. Wiener, and M. Stone. These figures symbolize a new generation of American mathematicians. Their achievements described by the author help the reader to get an understanding of American heritage in the field of mathematics.

One deepens his or her knowledge in this sphere if combines the reading of the article with watching The Math Life video which contains extracts from interviews with fourteen well-known mathematicians. This is a 50-minute documentary on mathematics intended for a general audience. It is divided into nine sections: Doing the Math, Shape, Working, Number, Proof, Uncertainty, The Real World, Connections, and The Last Word.

The peculiar feature of the video is that it uses computer graphics to maximize accessibility to the concepts discussed. We believe that computer animation the authors have resorted to has a significant advantage over any other medium that could be used. Every concept that a mathematician mention gets its graphical explanation that cannot but attract the attention of the audience.

The video under consideration is important in terms of giving insights into the profession of a mathematician. The interviewees suggest their vision of the tasks that mathematicians have to cope with. For example, Dorothy Wallace admits that mathematicians are engaged in a search of patterns that others fail to notice. According to another scientist, Mike Freedman, being a successful mathematician implies being an unusual person capable of observing things that others do not care about and understanding them in a specific way. David Mumford claims that the absence of a pattern it’s not chaos, but a pattern itself. Illuminating comments of this type contribute to the view of mathematicians as quite unordinary people that think in a way that differs from the one common for others.

The video is of much importance not only for potential mathematicians but for a general audience as well. It presents a realistic picture of the world of those who have once chosen mathematics as their career. The video promotes mathematics as a challenging and interesting career, this promotion begins from the very first segment where some of the mathematicians discuss the reasons that made them take up mathematics as a career.

We cannot but admit the diversity of the reasons mentioned: parents’ and teachers’ encouragement, personal captivation by math, the need to change a profession, and the like. Then the interviewees explain what attracts them in their occupation, they name the freedom, the diversity, and the universality of principles among the first appeals of mathematics, then come acceptance of eccentricities and the opportunity to develop one’s logical thinking.

The mathematicians every time demonstrate the relevance of science to everyday life. The major fields of mathematics such as geometry, topology, number theory, and the like are discussed in simple words that make every viewer engaged in the video.

Dan Rockmore, professor of math and filmmaker in his interview to the Connect Magazine confesses:

I wanted to give some insight into what it means to “do” mathematics, and then to reveal it for the diverse world that it is, both in terms of the people who do it and the intellects that are attracted to it. In short, I wanted to show that mathematics is more than just numbers and mathematicians are more than just the extreme personalities that periodically make it to the big, or little, screen (Connect Magazine 2003).

We believe that he brilliantly coped with the task he set and managed to present a positive image of a mathematician. Since people’s attitude to mathematicians influences greatly their attitude to mathematics as a science, the film is of much value for forming a positive attitude to the scientists and the field discussed, in general.

Susan H. Picker and John S. Berry in their research Investigating Pupils’ Images of Mathematicians claim that mathematics “is a discipline that enjoys a peculiar property: it may be loved or hated, understood or misunderstood, but everybody has some mental image of it.” (Picker and Berry 65) Their research where lower secondary pupils from five countries were involved has shown that

Pupils believe that mathematicians do applications similar to those they have seen in their mathematics classes, including arithmetic computation, area and perimeter, and measurement. They also believe that a mathematician’s work involves accounting, doing taxes and bills, and banking; work which they contend includes doing hard sums or hard problems; yet pupils can supply no specifics about what such problems entail (Picker and Berry 88).

The video we have discussed above contributes to breaking this stereotype and forming a more objective view of mathematicians.

All the three sources we spoke of in the current paper provided us with some greater insight into the life and work of different mathematicians. We consider them to be a necessary tool for all dealing with pedagogy and for everyone who is not indifferent to science and can objectively appreciate its significance and value.

Works Cited

Picker, Susan H., and John S. Berry. “Investigating Pupils’ Images of Mathematicians.” Educational Studies in Mathematics 43.1 (2000): 65-94.

” Connect Magazine. 2003: 16.3. Web.

Wendy Conquest/Bob Drake/Dan Rockmore Prod. The Math Life. Princeton, NJ: Films for the Humanities & Sciences, 2002.

Zitarelli, David E. “Towering Figures in American Mathematics, 1890-1950.” The American Mathematical Monthly 108.7 (2001): 606-632.

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