A num­bers game

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words - — Jen­nifer Levin

The very men­tion of math makes my stom­ach hurt. Not bal­ance-your-check­book math — though I’m not a fan of that ac­tiv­ity — but fac­tor-this-equa­tion math, solve-for-X math, what’s-wrong with-you-that-you-don’t-know-how-to-cal­cu­late-to-a-power-of-three math, the last of which might not even be real math but some in­ven­tion of my own night­mares. I would like to blame this trauma on my cruel and un­usual ninth-grade al­ge­bra teacher, who had, ac­cord­ing to the math­letes she trained in com­pet­i­tive cal­cu­lus, a bril­liant mind for fig­ures cou­pled with an ob­ses­sive dis­gust for stu­dents who shut down on num­bers. But to be hon­est, I think I’m just re­ally bad at it, and it makes me sick. Life ex­pe­ri­ence has taught me that I be­long to a pretty big club — the cool kids that had to re­peat ge­om­e­try in sum­mer school, the dis­mis­sive lit­er­ary types who buy into (and take some de­light in per­pet­u­at­ing) the pos­si­bly un­fair stereo­types that math­e­mati­cians are cold, un­emo­tional, robotic, and un­able to con­nect to reg­u­lar hu­man be­ings, so caught in their very large brains are they.

Reuben Hersh and Vera John-Steiner at­tempt to dis­pel the un­kind clichés about math­e­mati­cians in Lov­ing + Hat­ing Math­e­mat­ics: Chal­leng­ing the Myths of the Math­e­mat­i­cal Life (Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity Press), which is “about math­e­mati­cians, their ex­tra­or­di­nary pas­sion for math­e­mat­ics, and their full com­plex­ity of be­ing.” The au­thors are on hand at 3 p.m. Satur­day, Feb. 5, at Gar­cia Street Books (376 Gar­cia St., 986-0151) for a book-launch cel­e­bra­tion. The book is heady with math­e­mat­i­cal aha mo­ments and will serve bril­liantly as a vir­tual sup­port group for math­e­mati­cians who feel iso­lated by the false no­tion that math­e­mati­cians are iso­lated. Hersh is co-author of The Math­e­mat­i­cal Ex­pe­ri­ence, and John-Steiner’s books in­clude Note­books of the

Mind. Both are pro­fes­sors emer­iti at the Uni­ver­sity of New Mex­ico.

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