What do math geeks like about math?

What do math geeks like about math? by Brandon Ross

Answer by Brandon Ross:

Imagine you found a magic wand, covered in dust, in the bottom of a wardrobe of some aging wizard. It looks rather plain. You hold it in your fingers, and wobble it up and down.

But you’re caught in the act! The old man snatches it right from your hand.

“What does it do?” you ask.

He’s surprised. Your curiosity is rewarded.

“It holds great power. If you say the magic words in the right order, the wand may grant you your desires.”

He holds it in his hand. He pauses, and smiles at you.

“Do you want to learn this power?”

You nod.

The old man chuckles. Of course you do. But he warns you, “Any power can be wielded for good or evil. And mistakes? Mistakes can have terrible consequences.”

You do not fully understand. So, he explains the scope of the wand’s power.

With it, you could drop a giant boulder on your worst enemies. Even hurl it over their high castle walls.

Or you could prevent a village from starving. You might slow disease–even cure it. You might bring back people from the brink of death.

You could send a message to nearly anyone on the Earth. Sowing discord or bringing harmony. The wand could even tell you how to find these people. And, when you arrive there, you could understand the unknown tongues of foreigners.

You could have all of human knowledge at your beck and call. You would have the power to freeze an instant in time. And recall it, whenever you wish. You could conjure light without fire. Songs without singers.

You will know the substance from which all life and all things are made. You could build a tower straight into the air—high as a mountain—made of stone, glass, or metal. You could breathe underneath the oceans. You could soar through the sky like a bird. Or you could escape the Earth completely. You could visit the moon. Or travel to distant worlds that no human has ever visited. The moon, planets, and stars, you will understand their motion in the skies.

You could peer back in time and listen to the very first echoes of the universe's creation. And you could see into the future–long past your own death–and see the eventual demise of every far-flung star in the night sky. With that knowledge, you could unleash the power of a star and destroy entire cities in fire. Or, you could shackle that power, and give those people light and heat and water for generations.

None of these things would be beyond your understanding. You will see the order in all things. And the wildness coursing underneath all of it that—so far—has escaped all attempts to be tamed. And there is no answer to where this power has come from. It is wholly indifferent to you, to us, and to life. And yet we are all controlled by it—every moment of every day—whether we understand it or not.

You are curious. How does something so powerful escape our eyes? How can what this old man says be true? You want to know.

He continues. And if the material world becomes too small or too boring, there is more. You can conjure new realities. Things that have never existed. And will never exist. Where the laws of space and time bend to your whim.

He laughs.

And you will see that even those impossible worlds. They hold great power here in our own. You will see the fundamental magic words—that every beginner learns from the first day—still hold mysteries and power that no one can yet explain.

He is becoming excited himself. But he stops.

He tells you, no doubt, this wand you found in the bottom of his wardrobe wields a sublime, awe-inspiring power. Few mortal humans who will ever live and breathe will ever understand its true potential. Even the masters—who devote their entire lives to its study—know they are not far from humble beginners.

Rightfully, he cautions you that this power can take years to understand. Near everyone could use it. But most who study it would quit. They are too impatient. Minds too closed. Too little imagination. Too arrogant to learn from their mistakes.

He pauses.

“Are you sure that is something you are ready for?”

You nod, awkwardly. You secretly doubt yourself. He holds out the wand.

“Good. First, we will begin with the rules of addition.”

It is not magic. Through the study and application of mathematics, humans have obtained the power to do all of these things.

To most people, math is doing things with numbers. To math geeks, math is about relationships. Relationships are everywhere, between everything.

What do math geeks like about math?


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