I’m on a long flight from LHR-SFO, reading a great book called The Divine Proportion, by H.E. Huntley, published in 1970. It’s about the relationship of aesthetics and mathematics, so of course if focuses a lot on the Golden Ratio.
In the first chapter, the author describes how he fell in love with mathematics. It was at a lecture, during his freshman year at Bristol University and the lecturer, Peter Frazer, wrote a theorem on the chalkboard and became enamored by the simple elegance of the set he had drawn. He paused, then proclaimed how exquisite it was, becoming animated in his exaltations of the theorem’s beauty. The class laughed, but the author was moved.
I get it. I had a similar experience in my freshman calculus class, when Professor Zukowski, who most mornings reeked of alcohol, wrote on the board the first differential equation I’d ever seen, and proceeded to explain how calculus could explain so many parts of our world…it was like I had received a decoder ring for the universe. I had loved trigonometry in high school, mostly the graphing of the curves, but this was adding a new dimension, literally.
In the book, Professor Huntley gives advice to those who might be reading it and thinking of pursuing mathematics as a career. One bit of advice struck me as sad, yet true. He writes, “You may be lonely. Scarcely anyone will understand your work because few will be capable of understanding it.”
I feel that deeply. Perhaps my greatest failure as a parent has been my inability to stir in my children the same love I had for math. Granted, I didn’t fall in love with math until I was in college. And friends will tell you that it wasn’t math I fell in love with, but David Carpenter.
I’ll explain… I was in NROTC, so I had to take calculus. And in my calculus class was a cute, suntanned, shaggy-haired boy with awesome dimples, named Dave Carpenter. He kept to himself, which added to his mystique. One day, he came to class in an Air Force ROTC uniform and I about died…my secret crush was also in ROTC! I finally mustered the courage to ask him about it, and we struck up a conversation. He had dreams of becoming an astronaut, so he was enrolled in AFROTC. I started researching the space program. Most astronauts were former military test pilots who had technical degrees. So I switched my major from art to mathematics. My friends accused me of wanting to become an astronaut so I could have sex with David Carpenter in space.
After the second month of school, I didn’t see him in class. I never saw him in a uniform on campus again. His enthusiasm for the space program had apparently dissipated, or maybe it transferred over to me. I went on a field trip to a few naval air stations over the holiday break and fell in love with flying, too. David Carpenter had been replaced.
It’s funny, I was reading this book about numbers, and then the in-flight TV show I was most drawn to was a show about online dating and algorithms. I took a few notes; my next exercise after writing this blog post is updating my dating profile. On the show, the host mentioned the mathematical formula about rejecting 37% of options and then dating the next suitable person (also detailed in this article). I’ve been keeping a list of the dates I’ve been on; I think I’m around 28, so I feel like I have extra incentive to hop to it and get out on some more dates.
I was also super inspired by the images and figures in the book. I cannot wait to get my art studio in order so I can start a mathematically-inspired series of paintings. I want to do a bunch that are inspired by the golden ratio, and also a series of chessboards. I love that math continues to inspire me in so many ways, which gives me hope that maybe my kids will also eventually learn to appreciate it.