The Joy of Mathematics
I always liked math, I just didn't know what to do with it. Oh, I understood that you could count things or measure the length of a board, but to what end? I liked that something increased. Two plus two gave you four; gave you more. Something grew larger, expanded maybe, but what? Eventually I realized that it didn't matter. It was about the elegance, the simplicity, not the result. You didn't need to know if it was beans or miles or stars in the sky, it just was. It was pure, uncontaminated by person or presence or perversion.
If addition was a pleasure multiplication was ecstasy; addition on steroids; on speed. You got to the same place, but like a thundering V8 it slammed you back in your seat because it happened so fast. It made you smile; made you want to do it again and again. It felt slightly illicit, like those stoplight drag races. But that would come later. Math happened right from the start; right from first grade, when you didn't need Detroit iron or screaming guitars to have a good time.
But, like a precursor to real life, math had its downside. The disappointment of subtraction: the stark picture of loss, of things taken away, diminished, enumerated in black and white and then gone, shrunken and shriveled, a prune from a plum. You couldn't help feeling the loss. And division? Unfathomable. Why was everything upside down? Where was the logic, the elegance, the simplicity? Division gave math a bad name. Long division was a curse. You felt the loss like a jilted lover.
Algebra was magic, restoring your faith. Like being born again, everything forgiven, you were saved. The mysterious X, promising everything, revealing nothing; the proverbial every number containing every answer. It was your nemesis and your friend all at the same time.
But suddenly there was geometry, bringing doubt, testing your faith, making you question your beliefs. Were points and planes, lines and shapes and theorems, math? Plane geometry was plain only in the sense that it was something only its mother could love. Then solid geometry, a sly joke for a thing so amorphous, so intangible, like smoke disappearing into the ether.
Finally, like some wandering seeker of nirvana I came to calculus. So pure, so ethereal, that even the teachers did not claim any practicality for it. You loved it or hated it. It existed, if it did at all, in another world. You swam with it; floating along in masses of numbers; calculations that ran for pages for no good reason and to no purpose. They just were. You could fight them and you would lose, or you could go with them; be one with them, embrace the faith, leave your questions behind and be good with it.
But at its most elemental, where two plus two equals four and four times four equals sixteen, you can just marvel at its elegance, at the lack of ambiguity, and enjoy the comfort of the certainty in those expressions.
Mathematics is not affected by pandemics or quarantines or social distancing. It doesn't care about friends or followers, tweets or twits. Two plus two equals four. Fact. Truth.
One Small Voice
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