The Hidden Message of Mathematics

In this article Cayla shares her passion for mathematics. She celebrates the skill of critical thinking that learning mathematics can help us develop. She encourages us to unlock the hidden message of mathematics and see the beauty in it.

Illustration by Sara Eskandari

All of us grow up with mathematics around us, whether it is learning to count for the first time or looking at the clock and trying to learn how to tell the time. I believe

these first encounters with mathematics in our daily life play a critical part in our introduction to mathematics. This stage opens our minds to a whole new world that was previously unknown to us.

As we start school, we finally put this newfound information into categories. We learn more about a portion of this broad topic called mathematics and some of us like it and some of us do not. Some people do not enjoy mathematics as they find no practicality to it. In Grade 1, we learn that 1 + 1 = 2 and we just accept it. We carry on the rest of our schooling career with more formulas without any reasoning as to why we use them. Most of us wonder if we’ll ever use them in real life.

I believe it was only this year as a university student that for the first time I saw mathematics as more than numbers and variables. This occurred during the proof of the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus 1. I do not scare of numbers easily, but that class traumatised me. For the rest of the day, I was tried to understand the proof. It only clicked as I was about to give up. Once it made sense, it got me thinking about the intelligence and brain power necessary to even come up with a proof like this. I realised that this proof was more than just knowledge about mathematics. There was something much deeper. It is the beauty of the critical thinking and focus behind that theorem. The careful construction and pattern recognition of the proof is what enabled that proof to exist. I believe that a proof is the best way to deepen our thoughts. It is like a puzzle. At the beginning of a puzzle, all the pieces are disorganized. It is through picking up the pieces and analysing them that we could find where each piece belongs. Once we organize the pieces, all we need to do is connect the pieces together. At the end, we are left with a beautiful construction.

Bertrand Russel, a British philosopher and mathematician, once said “Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth but supreme beauty.”

Illustration by Liani Malherbe

I always enjoyed mathematics class early in the morning as I found it helped me focus better in other classes. It felt like an early morning run. A run easily releases many hormones which improves concentration and alertness. I imagine mathematics as the key to the brain. It opens our minds to endless possibilities where we can derive anything we set our minds to. It unlocks our ability to view things in different ways.

An equation requires recognition and critically analysing the right method to solve it. At the beginning it may take some time to allow your brain to view the best way to solve that equation. It may require a lot of practice and focus. Just any other problem, we first need to recognize it and then analyse the best way to solve it.

To give a real life example, in the insurance industry they try to find the best, most efficient way to charge the best premium based on the predicted risk. There is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to insurance, but the critical thinking and pattern recognition obtained from mathematics allowed them to be more careful and become better at predicting the risk and therefore charging better premiums. This is just one example, there are countless examples of how mathematics improved the thinking pattern of many people and careers.

Mathematics should not be feared, a world without mathematics should be. If we open our minds to the possibility of something greater than ourselves, we find the true hidden message of mathematics. 

One of my favourite sayings is from Albert Einstein who said, “Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas”.

Mathematics is the catalyst to achievement in other areas of our lives. It is what mathematics unlocks that allows us to become better teachers, students, workers, parents, and partners. It is once we view mathematics in this way, that we truly see the beauty of mathematics.

Cayla Botes

BCom Actuarial Science (First Year) Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch.

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