This is a really inspirational story to me. “The important thing is to keep thinking.”
Now, I want you to imagine for a moment that you live in the United States, to be exact: New Hampshire. You’re a recruiter at the University of New Hampshireand your job is to hire the best people to become professors and lecturers.
Now suppose one day you get an application from this guy, Zhang Yitang, a 50-something mathematician. Since getting his PhD from Purdue, he’s struggled to find an academic job, working as a motel clerk and a Subway sandwich maker. I wouldn’t blame you if you passed over him.
It turns out if you had skipped Zhang Yitang, you’d have been making a big mistake, because a few weeks ago this 57-year old Chinese mathematician made headlines around the world when he proved a result in number theory which has been challenging mathematicians for years.
The Freakonomics of math—a math-world superstar unveils the hidden beauty and logic of the world and puts its power in our hands
The math we learn in school can seem like a dull set of rules, laid down by the ancients and not to be questioned. In How Not to Be Wrong, Jordan Ellenberg shows us how terribly limiting this view is: Math isn’t confined to abstract incidents that never occur in real life, but rather touches everything we do–the whole world is shot through with it.
Math allows us to see the hidden structures underneath the messy and chaotic surface of our world. It’s a science of not being wrong, hammered out by centuries of hard work and argument. Armed with the tools of mathematics, we can see through to the true meaning of information we take for granted: How early should you get to the airport? What does “public opinion” really represent? Why do tall parents have shorter children? Who really won Florida in 2000? And how likely are you, really, to develop cancer?
How Not to Be Wrong presents the surprising revelations behind all of these questions and many more, using the mathematician’s method of analyzing life and exposing the hard-won insights of the academic community to the layman–minus the jargon. Ellenberg chases mathematical threads through a vast range of time and space, from the everyday to the cosmic, encountering, among other things, baseball, Reaganomics, daring lottery schemes, Voltaire, the replicability crisis in psychology, Italian Renaissance painting, artificial languages, the development of non-Euclidean geometry, the coming obesity apocalypse, Antonin Scalia’s views on crime and punishment, the psychology of slime molds, what Facebook can and can’t figure out about you, and the existence of God.
Ellenberg pulls from history as well as from the latest theoretical developments to provide those not trained in math with the knowledge they need. Math, as Ellenberg says, is “an atomic-powered prosthesis that you attach to your common sense, vastly multiplying its reach and strength.” With the tools of mathematics in hand, you can understand the world in a deeper, more meaningful way. How Not to Be Wrong will show you how.