A numbers game
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.