This semester I took my capstone class, MTH 495: The History of Mathematics. On the first day of class, we were asked the thought-provoking question: What is Mathematics? Looking back on this day, I really didn’t know how to go about answering this question. Math is such a broad concept; there are different fields, developments, and relations to mathematics that defining it seems rather impossible. My initial blog about this question is posted a couple months back.
Specifically in one class this semester, we debated about another question: Is Math a Science? From the get go, I said yes – math is a science. I said this with some un-sureness in my voice, since I would prefer to say “Math is related to science”, or “Math plays a key role in science”, or even “Math is a nice umbrella to science”. With more discovery and concepts in the course, I feel more comfortable responding to these questions such as these.
At the beginning of the semester, I said math is just a logical way of explaining the world around us; a science of not being wrong about things. Now, this means even more. Throughout this course, I have seen countless examples of math involved in areas I had never thought of. Some examples: the Fibonacci sequence in plants, fashion, and what seems to be everything; repetitive wallpaper patterns that actually relate to specific symmetry groups; and doodles that do more than just take up class time. Most people think of the difficult concepts, like calculus and algebra. But mathematics is everywhere, and not everyone realizes that.
I was embarrassed to admit how little I knew about the history of mathematics. When asked, I could hardly name major people in the field, let alone what their contributions were. Now, I am much more comfortable to talk about Riemann and his connection to calculus, Euler and his famous line, or this sequence of numbers Fibonacci discovered that people are always talking about.
In order to truly appreciate math, one must know how big of a field it really is. Without the struggle and perseverance of mathematicians before us, we would never have the concepts and advancements that we have today.