What is Mathematics?

“The Laws of Nature are written in the language of mathematics” – Galileo Galilei

Mathematics has been called the science of patterns and relationships and the language of science, Galileo, the famous Italian scientist who lived from 1564 to 1642, claimed that “The Laws of Nature are written in the language of mathematics”. In fact, mathematics is all these things. It’s a growing, creative and dynamic field of inquiry. The explosion of mathematics is often hidden from the general population, but it has changed in recent years. Scientific discovery and debate – for example, surrounding global warming – have led to a desire to understand the maths that underlies it. The popular media have also played their part, and mathematics has been at the heart of such works as the Oscar-winning film A Beautiful Mind (an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated book of the same name) and Dan Brown’s bestseller The Da Vinci Code. Even psychedelic fractal posters reveal an appreciation of mathematical beauty, whether or not people choose to see the numbers behind the patterns.

In spite of this, some people still see mathematics as a static discipline, isolated from the real world. This is chiefly the fault of an education system that spends most of its time reviewing material developed millennia ago. That’s not to say that these topics aren’t important and interesting, but it’s rarely conveyed just how fluid a subject mathematics is, let alone how it has developed and grown over time. Mathematics has a rich history and within these pages we’ll meet many of the fascinating mathematicians who shaped it.

What’s more, maths continues to be shaped by remarkable individuals. Andrew Wiles, the mathematician who famously solved ‘Fermat’s Last Theorem’ in 1994, and the popularity of Simon Singh’s ensuing book, are both proof that mathematics is still growing and changing.

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