Square roots of reality

While I usually talk about history, today we will take a step into another academic world. The interesting, but to many often confusing world of mathematics. As anyone who has ever asked me anything on the subject will know, I am no expert when it comes to mathematics. But now my good friend and colleague from Sweden, Marcus Näslund, has released a book that will make me and (hopefully) many others see the light and find the beauty of mathematics and the square roots of reality. But I better let him explain what his books is all about:

Verklighetens Kvadratrötter is my attempt to explain in more detail how and why mathematics is an important part of our everyday lives. More particularly, it aims to show just how our modern, digital society would be impossible without it.

Although ancient cultures like the Babylonians and Egyptians worked with mathematics, they did not appreciate the subject for its own sake. Maths was more of “that thing” that happened while trying to do something more practical. The true stroke of genius by the Greeks was the study of mathematics itself. By making it more abstract and non-practical, the subject paradoxically becomes more practical. This is because the same piece of knowledge can be applied to many different fields.

Another paradoxical truth is that since maths is such a universal and important tool it, for many, becomes difficult to explain its importance. Saying it is “universally important” means nothing to people not well versed in the field, just as motivating English studies by saying it is for “communication” means nothing. People may also disagree with my opinion of beauty, so the book instead focuses on real-world applications everyone is familiar with. This includes cell phones, betting companies, computer games, weather prediction and architecture.

I’ve tried keeping the content as non-technical as possible. The book does not teach mathematics, as any other textbook. Instead the book discusses maths, talks about it, its effects on society, and attempts to create a positive association to the subject. Mathematics is so much more than what it seems to be in school, where it is often portrayed as an isolated, often unimportant subject.

But this opinion is not only wrong, it is dangerous. As Carl Sagan said:
“We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology.”

What drives our technical development forward is research in natural science, and at the core of natural science, there is mathematics. I feel a need to explain to people how important (and because of this, beautiful) the subject is. This book hopefully offers many useful insights into what maths is about, not just for young people currently studying it, but also for teachers looking to motivate their students.”

Marcus Näslund is Project leader at Uppsala Mattecentrum (Mathematics Centre)

Those who want to read more about the book (in Swedish) can do it at www.kvadratrot.se

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