Edward Frenkel is a Russian mathematician and professor at University of California, Berkley. However, he is perhaps most well known for his best-selling book ‘Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality’, which was published in October 2013.
Frenkel believes that the way mathematics is taught in schools today is “about as exciting as watching paint dry“, and as a result most people have a very bad experience with it; as a mathematics student, when people ask me what I study I am often met with the response of “oh god!”, “why?” or simply just a look of bewilderment.
Love and Math attempts to show a side of mathematics that we’ve never seen. It tells two intertwined stories: of the wonders of mathematics and of one man’s journey in learning and living it. In this way, this book shows the reader how to access a new way of thinking and invites them to discover “the hidden magic universe of mathematics“.
Frenkel insists that there is no need to ‘suffer’ through years of mathematical study to grasp the key ideas, but rather we can learn “a few chords“, he says. So what are these ‘chords’? For example, instead of learning something “dry” like Euclidean geometry, we should learn the concept of symmetry. Whilst it may seem like a simple idea, the mathematics involving symmetry can quickly grow more elaborate, and in fact it played a fundamental role in the discovery of quarks, which are the elementary particles that protons and neutrons are composed of.
If you didn’t enjoy mathematics in secondary school, the following episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast, featuring Edward Frenkel, may catch your attention.
My experience with mathematics in secondary school was a rather negative one in the sense that I never had an amazing teacher who transmitted a real passion for the subject to their students. Instead, my lessons were often filled with a 10 minute (very dry) powerpoint at the start to explain the content (but just what we needed to know for the exam), and then 50 minutes of answering very routine questions. We did not get exposed to the level of problem solving that I am now being shown in university, nor did we really learn the fundamentals of mathematics, for example what does it mean to differentiate or integrate? I was never even taught what a limit was, I had to teach that to myself! Due to this, I feel like a lot of students where pushed away from perhaps pursuing mathematics, which is a real shame. I was lucky to always have this inner passion for mathematics, which was the driving force throughout my GCSEs and A-Levels.
What are your thoughts on mathematics in high school/ secondary school? M x