Gratitude – Post 121 – Mathematics

I am grateful for mathematics.

There is an artistic beauty in mathematics that both calms my soul and feeds my enthusiasm. I don’t often share my opinion on the subject of mathematics with those around me, because my words are often met with harsh contrariness. I love mathematics, truly love it, and I cannot remember ever having not loved mathematics.

“The study of mathematics, like the Nile, begins in minuteness, but ends in magnificence,” said Charles Caleb Colton sometime in the early 1800s and when I read that quote early on in my education I knew he spoke for me. I had the great fortune of having Mr. Hickling for Grade Thirteen Functions and Relations and as I watched him scribbling equations on the blackboard I knew that mathematics was as automatic to him as breathing, as walking, as blinking his eyes and I do remember reveling in that awareness, a privilege to be witness to his love of mathematics, his understanding of it.

Very little of life makes sense and a lot of it is painful and frustrating and difficult and that is the very nature of being human and alive. Fairness seldom comes into play and I struggle with that fact on a regular basis, but mathematics is beautifully honest, lives within its own rules, and takes us from learning to add, to performing long division, to logarithms and polar coordinates, to “infinity and beyond”, as Buzz Lightyear would say.

Studying mathematics helps us to tell time, in that an understanding of fractions helps decipher an analog clock and the placement of its hands on its face in relation to time. The meandering ratio of a river is the relationship of the distance a river travels from its mouth. The ratio of a river’s length to the distance from its mouth approaches pi, a number that cannot be stated as a fraction, whose very expression is infinity. Bees are masters of geometry, which is the study of the size, shape, positions and dimensions of things. Bees use hexagons in the creation of their honeycombs because they fit perfectly together without waste or spaces. These are merely simple expressions of the evidence that mathematics lives all around us.

I minored in Calculus in university and of all my classes, I have to say that my Calculus lab on Tuesday afternoons for three hours, from 2:30 to 5:30 was the class I rushed to and was the class I never missed. Calculus lab was where we went to “practice” what we learned in our lectures. Calculus was brain candy, was invigorating, was soothing, was comforting, was simply wonderful and I miss it.

Logarithms are used to solve exponential equations and are used to explain earthquakes and the brightness of stars, to name just two applications. I can no longer do logarithms, can’t even remember where to begin. But maybe, like having run a marathon or having climbed Mount Everest or having swam the English Channel, it is an achievement that cannot be reduced or removed, we carry it with us always, even when we can no longer perform it.

Albert Einstein said, “Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.” I like that. Thank you, Mr. Einstein and thank you, Mr. Hickling.

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