Monday, September 30, 2019

Daniel Tammet: Thinking in Numbers

A little 'secret' fact about me: for my first eight years of school I went through intensive mathematical training - which included also couple of times the week spent with a private teacher-, that brought me to various maths competitions with pretty good local results. Later on, in the high-school, I went for two years in an intensive mathematics-physics classroom and achieved the highest score at my graduation exam. But as my university and life plans included more humanistic orientation, I randomly got in touch with numbers, otherwise than by calculating mortgages and monthly revenue.
However, my love for science and particularly mathematics remains and every time I am looking for stability and clarity in my life, I keep myself busy with some very specific high-end science reading.
About Daniel Tammet I've read and heard a lot and more than my science friends recommended to read his books. As it took me a bit of time until the moment has come to connect deeply with my mathematical soul, I only had the chance to get to know his writings this weekend. 
Thinking in Numbers. How Maths Illuminates Our Lives is a collection of essays covering a variety of topics where numbers are involved. Although there are way too many people not so keen to hear and deal with maths - blame it on a teaching art which completely disconnects science from the surrounding reality in general - numbers and mathematics are everywhere. 
The Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos said that 'I know numbers are beautiful. If they are not beautiful, nothing is'. From heartbeats to languages, the numbers offer clarity and directions in everyday life. 'Like works of architecture, mathematical ideas help expand our circle of empathy,  liberating us from the tyranny of a single, parochial point of view. Numbers, properly considered make us better people', said Tammet opening a completely new door towards a complex, beautiful world hidden to many.
The references he uses are impressive, from Greek philosophers and literature to simple example took from life. Definitely a Renaissance outlook so rare nowadays. However, I've found that in many cases the bibliogprahy and the conclusions do not match necessarily the examples from real life. In some cases, the real life examples were not explored in all their details and at the end of the essay you are left with a kind of unmet expectations that not all the conclusions were extracted or maybe some details were actually missing.
Overall, Thinking in Numbers is a good book to spend an intellectual afternoon but it enters rather in the category of the popularization of science than pure scientific treaty. Which is not so bad - unless as in my case, you were expected to put your brains at work with highly abstract knowledge - because the world needs more people that discover the beauty of science and numbers. Maybe, as Tammet said, it makes us better people.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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