The Siren Song of Mathematics

Treat yourself to a book or two of Euclid.  You might discover an aesthetic you never knew existed, a beauty bare, austere, and elegant.

Forget about utility.  Forget about any fear you might have of math, or some childhood humiliation you may have experienced.  Expect a pleasant surprise.  Just enjoy the geometrical progression of your rule and compass across the page, as they make visual music out of a geometrical problem.

The book begins with definitions, common notions, and postulates.  These are the assumptions, the building blocks out of which everything else in the books of Euclid are made.

Take each proposition as a puzzle to solve, or a dilemma to resolve.  The thing I love about geometry is how the visual and rational aspects come together there before you on a sheet of paper.  Each construction seems to me to be a thing of beauty.

And I love Euclid’s proofs, his economy of expression, his rhythmic flow of thought, and his inexorable downhill run of reason.

I discovered Emily Dickenson while I was in college.  I loved the compressed language of her poems.  Math is like that.

At some point math captured me with its symbols and proofs.  The symbols were an innovation made to compress an oft repeated, complicated verbal expression into a single visual expression.  I can remember being drawn to “The World of Mathematics” by James Newman by the summation symbols that ran along its spine.  And I felt that when I’d come to the end of a proof that I’d finally understood the concept expressed in the proposition.

That power of a name Ursula Le Guin describes in her Earthsea trilogy realizes its full force in mathematics, e.g., e=mc2.  That formula precisely names the relationship that exists between energy and matter.

Math is a wonderful ocean, deep and wide, and brimming over with ideas.  Dive in.  Euclid is a great place to start.