In mathematics anything is possible, even the assertion 2+2=5. So goes the story in George Orwell’s darkly dystopian novel, 1984, when the hero of the novel realises that even the most fundamental truths that he accepted in his life could be changed at the behest of Big Brother. That the simplest ‘truths’ of mathematics could be violated in such a way by a government in possession of total power over the lives of its citizens is emblematic of the cultural role that mathematics, the Queen of the Sciences, plays in the definition of truth in our everyday lives.
50 Visions of Mathematics has been published to celebrate 50 years of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications. It contains 50 original pieces of writing from top mathematicians and science communicators, including the mystery of the number 6148. Through its wide-range of articles written on subjects varying from string theory to quadratic equations, as well as its 50 colour photos, it captures the very heart of what mathematics is really about: elegance and beauty.
The articles are generally written in a light-hearted and accessible way. One highlight for me is Marcus du Sautoy’s essay on mathematics as ‘the language of science’, something he asserts Galileo strongly affirmed as he developed a scientific method for the Enlightenment. Other fascinating essays are on subjects including ‘proof by pizza’, barcodes, the maths of footballs and a mathematical challenge set for the Phoenician princess Dido.
Finally, if you want to find out what makes the number 6148 so mysterious, then I recommend you read Yutaka Nishiyama’s article. You may never look at mathematics in the same way again.
by Darius Nikbin