Why I Love Mathematics…

One of the few endearing characteristics of my Calculus textbook is the sidebars sprinkled randomly through the book…..where the author attempts to instill some small bits of humanity in the almost mechanical process of acquiring the knowledge of calculus. For example, in the section of the “Mean Value Theorem”, we learn that the MVT was first formulated by Joseph-Louis Lagrange


….”born in Italy of a French father and an Italian mother. He was a child prodigy and became a professor in Turin at the tender age of 19….He was a kind and quiet man, though, living only for science.” Bully for him, I say.

Then in my Discrete Mathematics textbook, in the section dealing with “Constructing New Logical Equivalences”, the sidebar contains this story (excerpted for the sake of brevity) about Augusta Ada, Countess of Lovelance (1815 – 1852):


“Augusta Ada was the only child from the marriage of the famous poet Lord Byron and Lady Byron, Annabella Milbanke, who separated when Ada was 1 month old, becasue of Lord Byron’s scandalous affair with his half-sister. The Lord Byron had quite a reputation, being described by one of his lovers as ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know‘. Lady Byron was noted for her intellect and had a passion for mathematics; she was called by Lord Byron ‘The Princess of Parallelograms’. In 1838 Augusta Ada married Lord King, later elevated to Earl of Lovelance. Together they had three children…

…Ada continued her mathematical studies after her marriage. Charles Babbage had continued work on his Analytic Engine…In 1842 Babbage asked Augusta Ada to translate an article in French describing Babbage’s invention….


She recognized the promises of the machine as a general purpose computer much better than Babbage did. She stated that the “engine is the material expression of any indefinite function of any degree of generality and complexity‘. Her notes on the Analytic Engine anticipate many future developments, including computer-generated music. After 1845 she and Babbage worked toward the development of a system to predict horse races. Unfortunately, their system did not work well, leaving Augusta heavily in debt at the time of her death at an unfortunately young age from uterine cancer.”

How can I not appreciate the work of such people without seeing their humanity and frailties as the perfect expression of the human form?

1 Response to “Why I Love Mathematics…”

  1. 1 Michael A. Martin, MD May 17, 2008 at 9:30 am

    Mathematics is a beautiful body of knowledge, inextricably linked to physics. New ideas in physics drive the development of new mathematics, and vice versa.
    Just look at the work of Emmy Noether.

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