Curiosity and math with bad drawings ⇒ Kirno Sohochari

Reader’s annotation: Today’s post is my little tribute to Ben Orlin, the planner and moderator of Math with bad drawings site. The site is dedicated to talk with mathematical actors; we know them very well and having familiar with them. Ben tried to remind our prolonged relation with math-actors in context of interesting conversation of mathematical numbers, puzzle and history. His ideas are innovative, thought-provoking and truly entertaining. The site owner now lives in Birmingham, England. I guess so far from his introductory narration Ben teaches mathematics in England, having pleasure to play with mathematical puzzles and doing this with fun and intellects.

Playing with math is a great ability indeed! Math is the abstraction where reality always questioned and replaced by new ideas, that is poetic and philosophical with heavenly fun and amuses. Ben is deft to handle math-problem with care and fun, as any passionate follower of mathematics always try to learn and motivate other to make useful dialogue with mathematical actors.

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I think Ben is striking in his dialogue and tactics to popularize maths in public. A true educator always try teaches people with plausible pleasure. Ben is pleasurable (and plausible) with his simple outfit, which looks childish but hammered inside of mathematical jargon. Childish naivety is essential for any quest to discover the real face of life and dig the objective of knowledge. Ben’s enthusiastic approach and innocent deftness is useful to handle with curious fact, that is rules our perception and idealization of world even today.

… knowledge is required to build your own image, so that one could identify oneself as a part of universal game. Certificates helping one picks a job for survive, but knowledge helps him to understand his roots as human; so, don’t try uses knowledge as a tool for making just money. Knowledge is identity but not money…

He looks through the world with child’s curiosity, questions the world as if child’s vision, and play with these questions by child’s wonder to pull out the real actors of human knowledge banks. I think his method seemed to be useful in our modern day’s structural education, where enjoy of reading and curious questing vanished by the burden of career oriented job-competency, where knowledge is not for exhilaration to idealize the world by innovation, instead of knowledge is now treated as a tool to exploits people make them knowledge-slave. Ban’s methods perhaps tried to keep safe distance to it.

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Today’s education method stuffed by lot of information. This information certainly useful to teach and educate people for better competitor in job’s market, but probably little of them treated useful to strike people’s intuition for the philosophical quest of life. Jostein Gaarder truly depicted the problem in his charming book “Sophie’s World”. Yeah, everybody is a philosopher in childhood, because curiosity rotates their head in that lovely days of boyhood, but they lost it being after adult. An inborn philosopher was peeping there on that time of boyhood and later replaced by adulthood. It is indeed a sad incident for humans.

Curiosity is the mother of all pleasures adventure in life, but very few amid us could capable later flowed by curiosity to the last. We passed our life just it designed for us to pass. Most pathetic fact is that, the educator who takes the burden educates rest with joyful curiosity, sadly mimicked the knowledge they swilled before. I faced the problem in my childhood and even in adulthood period.

Real educator appeared day-by-day rare in the institutional framing of education. I don’t know Ben is agreed with me or not, but curiosized people about abstractness seemed rare in whole over the world. Today we have numerous advance things, our perception of world changes in a twinkling of an eye, and we all trying hard to adapt our body-mind with all this changeable dynamics, but sadly left the curious playfulness in this game of adaptation.

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World is running faster to divide itself as knowledge givers and receivers. One is busy to create, manipulates, distributes, promotes and sells the information; another is busy to swill the whole just to prove his compatibility in bread-winning battle. My elder brother once said to me, “Dear brother, do remember one thing, knowledge is required to build your own image, so that one could identify oneself as a part of universal game. Certificates helping one picks a job for survive, but knowledge helps him to understand his roots as human; so, don’t try uses knowledge as a tool for making just money. Knowledge is identity but not money.” I think he was right but I’m unable to repeat his word to my kid, who bears tons of information in his little shoulder just for competence and competition. Education perhaps appears a burden amid lot of kids, even adult too.

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Another problem of today’s world is that, we swim now in tons of information, where we Googling, Facebooking, Tweeting, YouTubing or channel-tuning day-to-day information in many mediums and soon bounced from one branch to another. I think substantial talk is hard in modern days. Writing meaningful book and something like that have little chance to read entire by readers. Likewise, Googling innovative useful ideas or interpretations and aware readers for it, is extremely difficult today. Ben is lucky, because his site already attract reader’s attention with good numbers of followers and commentators. Instead of, I think number is yet little in consideration of his enthusiastic efforts. It should increased lot, especially amid kid’s community.

… I think his method seemed to be useful in our modern day’s structural education, where enjoy of reading and curious questing vanished by the burden of career oriented job-competency, where knowledge is not for exhilaration to idealize the world by innovation, instead of knowledge is now treated as a tool to exploits people make them knowledge-slave. Ban’s methods perhaps tried to keep safe distance to it…

I think Ben deserve advocacy for his site. His storytelling technique is interesting for everybody. Math-drawings are attractive and explanatory. Above all, Ben’s curiosity driven package is entertaining for any readers. His effort maybe more educative and enjoyable if he extends his drawing oriented storytelling and conversation style to other field of knowledge. At least Physics, Chemistry, Biology deserve his lesson planning style, where artful drawing meets provocative puzzles of math-problem. Not even that, I think Math with bad drawings could include philosophical puzzle easily with its framing.

Ben’s mathematical line drawing gives plausible enjoyment and curiosity to enter the inner beauty of mathematics. I’m not obsessed in mathematical sign and numbers but enjoy the dancing of mathematical characters. These characters are true actor of life. We needed them to realize the inner functions of life in this planet and universe.

This is perhaps my third sharing post about math issues. I already shared my view about GoAnney Growney (see the article: Intersection-reality: where poetry meets mathematics: JoAnne Growney’s post-contribution in Poetry with mathematics blog) and Dywiann Xyara’s (see the article: Dancing with mathemagicians) poetry in Mathematical surrealism blog fantastic effort in this field. Readers, my effort will continue at future.

Footnote: I include one of most interesting post (Why Do We Pay Pure Mathematicians?) of Ben’s in my post. There is a lot in his original blog. You can easily enjoy them to make a visit in his site.

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Why Do We Pay Pure Mathematicians? by Ben Orlin

One of the joys of being married to a pure mathematician—other than finding coffee-stained notebooks full of integrals lying around the flat—is hearing her try to explain her job to other people.

“Are there…uh… a lot of computers involved?”

“Do you write equations? I mean, you know, long ones?”

“Do you work with really big numbers?”

No, sometimes, and no. She rarely uses a computer, traffics more with inequalities than equations, and—like most researchers in her subfield—considers any number larger than 5 to be monstrously big.

Still, she doesn’t begrudge the questions. Pure math research is a weird job, and hard to explain. (The irreplaceable Jordy Greenblatt wrote a great piece poking fun at the many misconceptions.)

So, here’s this teacher’s feeble attempt to explain the profession, on behalf of all the pure mathematicians out there.

Q: So, what is pure math?

A: Picture mathematics as a big yin-yang symbol. But instead of light vs. dark, or fire vs. water, it’s “pure” vs. “applied.”

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Applied mathematicians focus on the real-world uses of mathematics. Engineering, economics, physics, finance, biology, astronomy—all these fields need quantitative techniques to answer questions and solve problems.

Pure mathematics, by contrast, is mathematics for its own sake.

Q: So if “applied” means “useful,” doesn’t it follow that “pure” must mean…

A: Useless?

Q: You said it, not me.

A: Well, I prefer the phrase “for its own sake,” but “useless” isn’t far off.

Pure mathematics is not about applications. It’s not about the “real world.” It’s not about creating faster web browsers, or stronger bridges, or investment banks that are less likely to shatter the world economy.

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Pure math is about patterns, puzzles, and abstraction.

It’s about ideas.

It’s about the other ideas that come before, behind, next to, or on top of those initial ones.

It’s about asking, “Well, if that’s true, then what else is true?”

It’s about digging deeper.

Q: You’re telling me there are people out there, right this instant, doing mathematics that may never, ever be useful to anyone?

A: *glances over at wife working, verifies that she’s not currently watching Grey’s Anatomy*


Q: Um… why?

A: Because it’s beautiful! They’re charting the frontiers of human knowledge. They’re no different than philosophers, artists, and researchers in other pure sciences.

Q: Sure, that’s why they’re doing pure math. But why are we paying them?

A: Ah! That’s a trickier question. Let me distract you from it with a rambling story.

In the 19th century, mathematicians became obsessed with proof. For centuries, they’d worked with ideas (like the underpinnings of calculus) that they knew were true, but they couldn’t fully explain why.

So at the dawn of the 20th century a few academics, living on the borderlands between math and philosophy, began an ambitious project: to prove everything. They wanted to put all mathematical knowledge on a firm foundation, to create a system that could—with perfect accuracy, and utter permanence—separate truth from falsehood.

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This was an old idea (Euclid put all of planar geometry on a similar footing 2000 years earlier), but the scope of the project was new and monumental. Some of the world’s intellectual titans spent decades trying to explore the rigorous, hidden meanings behind statements like “1 + 1 = 2.”

Can you imagine anything more abstract? Anything more “pure”? Curiosity was their compass. Applications could not have been further from their minds.

Q: So? What happened?

A: The project failed.

Eventually, the philosopher Kurt Gödel proved that no matter what axioms you choose to start with, any system will eventually run into statements that can’t be proven either way. You can’t prove them true. You can’t prove them false. They just… are.

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We call these statements “undecidable.” The fact is, many things can be proven, but some things never can.

Q: Ugh! So it was just a massive waste of time! Pure maths is the worst.

A: Oh, I suppose you’re right.

Of course, the researchers tried to salvage something from the wreckage. Building on all this work, one British mathematician envisioned a machine that could help us decide which mathematical statements are true, false, or undecidable. It would be an automatic truth-determiner.

Q: Did they ever build it?

A: Yeah. The guy’s name was Alan Turing. Today we call those machines “computers.”

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Q: *stares blankly, jaw slowly unhinging*

A: Exactly.

This enormous project to prove everything—one of the purest mathematical enterprises ever undertaken—didn’t just end with a feeble flicker and a puff of smoke. Far from it.

Sure, it didn’t accomplish its stated goals. But by clarifying (and, at times, revolutionizing) ideas like “proof,” “truth,” and “information,” it did something even better.

It gave us the computer, which in turn gave us… well… the world we know.

Q: So the pure mathematics being done today might, someday, give us a new application as transformative as the computer?


But you shouldn’t hold any specific piece of work to that standard. It won’t meet it. Paper by paper, much of the pure math written this century will never see daylight. It’ll never get “applied” in any meaningful sense. It’ll be read by a few experts in the relevant subfield, then fade into the background.

That’s life.

But take any random paper written by an early 20th-century logician, and you could call it similarly pointless. If you eliminated that paper from the timeline, the Jenga tower of our intellectual history would remain perfectly upright. That doesn’t make those papers worthless, because research isn’t a collection of separable monologues.

It’s a dialogue.

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Every piece of research builds on what came before, and nudges its readers to imagine what might come next. Those nudges could prove hugely valuable. Or a little valuable. Or not valuable at all. It’s impossible to say in advance.

In this decades-long conversation, no particular phrase or sentence is necessarily urgent. Much will be forgotten, or drift into obscurity. And that’s all right. What’s vital is that the conversation keeps on flowing. People need to continue sharing ideas that excite them, even—or perhaps especially—if they can’t quite explain why.

Q: So, pure maths… come for the pretty patterns, stay for the revolutionary insights?

A: That about covers it.

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Originally published inMath with bad drawings blog, By  Ben Orlin;

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Read more to visit… Math with bad drawings blog
Photo Credit: Drawings are taken from Ben Orlin‘s site Math with bad drawings blogmetamorphosishogwartsfansitetheodysseyonline;
Post_Cover: Grateful to hidenori suzuki’s blog for the photography;