Mathematics and What It Means to Be Human

A humanities faculty member and a math faculty member collaborate on a course about the meaning of math.

“Don’t worry;” I told them. “You can’t find this more frightening than I do.”

And it was true. Ever since the word problems my father forced on us at dinner, I’ve always been terrified of math. I probably skipped dessert for all of fourth grade in order to escape some design to have me calculate how to share five ice-cream cones among eight friends who had a variety of flavor preferences. (As if I’d ever share ice cream, no matter how good the friend.)

So how did I find myself cheerleading for a course involving math?

Blame it on Stoppard’s Arcadia—a gorgeous play filled with poetry and math, English professors and mathematicians and students and teachers (and turtles), all inhabiting a very rich, very smart world. It was a world in which I wanted to live, or at least visit for two class periods a week. Manil had made the math in the play interesting and almost familiar; the complexities hypnotized me a bit. The images of fractals he’d generated on his laptop mirrored the mise-en-abyme of deconstruction; the proofs he’d talked about reproduced the precision of poetry in dazzling ways. —The Chronicle of Higher Education