Is Math Real?: How Simple Questions Lead Us to Mathematics’ Deepest Truths [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Eugenia Cheng, due August, 2023.
“One of the world’s most creative mathematicians offers a new way to look at math—focusing on questions, not answers
Where do we learn math: From rules in a textbook? From logic and deduction? Not really, according to mathematician Eugenia Cheng: we learn it from human curiosity—most importantly, from asking questions. This may come as a surprise to those who think that math is about finding the one right answer, or those who were told that the “dumb” question they asked just proved they were bad at math. But Cheng shows why people who ask questions like “Why does 1 + 1 = 2?” are at the very heart of the search for mathematical truth.
Is Math Real? is a much-needed repudiation of the rigid ways we’re taught to do math, and a celebration of the true, curious spirit of the discipline. Written with intelligence and passion, Is Math Real? brings us math as we’ve never seen it before, revealing how profound insights can emerge from seemingly unlikely sources.”
Also: “I’m sad that the subject is so polarising, with some believing they are “maths people” and others convinced they’re bad at it. But very few aspects of human behaviour are so black and white. Our abilities might fall along a continuum, but the most important thing is that everyone can get better if they’re helped in the right way. You won’t necessarily believe that if you’ve been scarred by your experiences at school. But one thing I know is that when I help five- and six-year-olds with maths they typically scream with excitement, and only learn to fear it later. The basic problem, in my view, is that in our haste to convey content – fractions, percentages, algorithms – we don’t pay enough attention to feelings. Typical curriculums fail to imbue children with a love and appreciation of maths. This is not the teachers’ fault – the education system judges students on performance, not enjoyment. However, if we focus on content at the expense of feelings then that content is unlikely to stick. Worse, we end up producing maths-phobic or maths-sceptical people who then find it difficult to apply important logical and quantitative reasoning techniques in the real world. Just how dangerous this can be became clear during the pandemic.”—”What if nobody is bad at maths?“