That’s really all I have to say about this. It’s incredible. So well written. It’s the best piece I’ve read that explains math and doing math to non-mathers. We talk a lot about analogies (caves or dark rooms with light switches or knives etc.) but this one just goes straight to it (the Devil’s game). I loved this quote and also it made me tear up a bit as I was sitting in my windowless office with the door closed taking a break from a problem:
As a group, the people drawn to mathematics tend to value certainty and logic and a neatness of outcome, so this game becomes a special kind of torture. And yet this is what any would-be mathematician must summon the courage to face down: weeks, months, years on a problem that may or may not even be possible to unlock. You find yourself sitting in a room without doors or windows, and you can shout and carry on all you want, but no one is listening.
Unfortunately, in the print edition it’s not very well formatted (too much wall of text, which the NYT Magazine has been doing lately). But the online version looks great.
Anyway, go read it. And if you want to know more about his childhood and see the way Australians write the word “pediatric,” read this one too. The NYT one is a better piece of writing, but The Age one covers different ground.
Regular (very long) math post coming up on Thursday! Left orderable groups!