I recently posted this to Twitter.
There is a lot of truth there, maybe more than I want to admit. But, yes, mathematics has gotten me through the toughest times. I’ve written about my depression before (and if you want to know more you can read my mental health blog.)
One of my worst experiences with depression is what is referred to as anhedonia. An inability to feel pleasure. You lose all interest and motivation for your hobbies and other things that used to bring you happiness. It also reduces your interest in social activities and relationships. It is difficult because the activities that could most change your mood no longer uplift you.
Though for me, in those moments, I find that I don’t lose interest in math. It is rather remarkable. It doesn’t always have much of an impact but it will temporarily lift me up. That is why I am ever so grateful for every mathematician that takes the time to write, film, or interact with the public.
Thanks to some new meds, I’m feeling well enough to start writing again. I thought I would take the time to focus on my love of mathematics! I’ve never really explained or talked about it here but I’ll go into the details. I’ll admit that it is idealistic and perhaps naive. But, I wouldn’t be the first to express such feelings.
This is what I stated in my interview with the Alone Together podcast. It is what is most important to me. It reflects my beliefs about the nature of reality.
When I studied psychology, I began to understand the ways the mind mediates our experiences. This is the whole basis for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which addresses our negative thoughts and helps us examine our beliefs about ourselves and others. This therapy helps us address these issues and we can replace them with more beneficial thoughts.
So, I often ponder the question of what we can know to be true. While math makes no promises of objectivity, it does provide a logical structure for understanding reality (I like these answers on quora that go much deeper than I can go on the subject). That gives me some hope. I think that is pretty groovy. I’m still amazed about what we can understand about higher dimensions.
There is a quote from G.H Hardy that has always stuck with me.
“A mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.”
That is one of my great desires, that mathematics could be studied like art or literature with the same appreciation. I don’t know what it takes to reveal mathematical beauty to others. I think places like MoMath and MathsCity reveal the beauty of math that is around us always through their demonstrations.
I’ve been reading Francis Su’s book, “The Mathematics for Human Flourishing.” It outlines many of the ideas that I’ve expressed on this blog. That math is an enrichment that can be appreciated by all people. He presents the virtues of mathematics and this is something that I want to delve into deeper from the perspective of psychology.
There is a game that I play. I lay on my back. Relaxing as best I can. I close my eyes and try to focus on a point like focusing on my third eye. I then try to imagine what it would feel like to exist as a pure mind without a body. For me, this is the ultimate freedom.
Mathematics is something that can be experienced with just the mind. You don’t even need a pen and paper. Think about your favorite riddles and maybe you will understand what I mean. I think a lot about the liar puzzles where logically you have to figure out a question that you can ask that will reveal who is lying and who is telling the truth.
I had a book full of logical puzzles like this when I was a kid and it was one of my favorite books. It is hard for me to deny the allure of a good logic problem. I used to have magazines full of them that I would solve with my father
This isn’t to say that mathematics is without its issues or problems. We can’t just talk about the ideals of mathematics. We also have to consider the way it is problematic.
There is still gatekeeping that impacts marginalized groups. I still hear stories of women who are told by advisors not to pursue mathematics. We are also not taught about mathematicians with these identities in schools.
In the US, we are mostly taught one perspective that tends to be white, male, and European. This overlooks the accomplishments of other cultures and countries that may have different ways of thinking about mathematics that are just as valid.
Thirdly, we should consider the world history of mathematics. Widen our view of the subject and understand how it developed over time in many different places. I have a coffee table book that is huge just on the history of numbers.
These are the first things that come to mind. I’m sure advocates would have much more information available and more to say. If you have something you would like to add please put them in the comments.
I value Truth, Beauty, and Freedom much like the bohemians in Moulin Rouge. Mathematics continues to inspire me every day of my life. It provides comfort in my darkest moments and gives me hope for the future.
That is what this blog is fundamentally about and why I choose to write about math over any other subject. If you enjoyed this blog here are five posts to help you delve deeper into the subject.
I’m the writer with a mathematical muse. I love words, numbers, dreaming big & helping others. I believe that whatever you imagine, you can become. They/Them.