I am a mathematician at heart. I say this for a number of reasons.
When I was in secondary school mathematics was one of my worst subjects. Until 5th year that is. Then I had the best maths teacher I have ever encountered. In one year he transformed my struggle with maths into a delight. I went on to do a bachelors’s degree in mathematics, not because it offered good job prospects (it didn’t). Rather I did it because I wanted to be an electronic engineer. For many years I had been a licensed radio amateur, and found that I easily learned about electronics and radio, but the maths was a deterent. So, the obvious solution, to me, was to study maths. On the strength of these studies I eventually became a university lecturer in electrical and electronic engineering, and did a Master of Engineering by research into artificial intelligence and computer speech recognition and understanding.
As an aside, this reminds me of a post I just made to Mal’s Meanderings about the great effects small unselfish acts have in the lives of other people. I doubt that Charlie Green (the maths teacher) knew what he was getting me into.
Back to the subject in hand. On other reason I like mathematics is undoubtedly explained by my Myers-Briggs personality profile – INTP. On the first test I did, many years ago, I was high up the corner of the Analyser quadrant – not quite Mr Spock from Star Trek, but getting there! I’ve moved a long way towards the centre since then, but I still enjoy knowing about things and seeing how different areas of knowledge relate to each other.
But, what is the main reason I like maths?
There’s something mystical about mathematics – the way it can describe nature using symbols, and then those symbols be manipulated to predict things that are not yet known. These things are almost invariably found to exist when we go looking for them. Good examples are the prediction, and eventual confirmation of the existence of black holes, electromagnetic waves, trans-uranic elements, gravitational lensing, entangled electrons, etc.
I love being able to look at the sky and see in the cloud patterns a map of the weather. Then, looking at an actual weather map and seeing in the highs and lows, the poles and zeros, the same mathematical equations that I would to design a feedback control system, or an electronic filter for a radio receiver.
The natural world is so wonderfully interconnected, with an economy of use and reuse of concepts, that one can not go past the idea of it being designed by an infinite mind that also loves mathematics, even more than I do.
Mathematics is a descriptive and predictive language that has no physical existence of its own – it is simply an organizing principle, a completely abstract human construct. Except, it has a perfection which makes me sure that it is not simply human, but comes first from the mind of God.
There is much more to be said about this, another day.