Life by the Numbers

Overview

Why do leopards grow spots when tigers grow stripes? Is the universe round, square, or some other shape? How do the dimples in a golf ball give it greater lift? Is there such a thing as a public mood? If so, how can we accurately take its pulse?

Only one tool of the human mind has the power and versatility to answer so many questions about our world—mathematics. Far from a musty set of equations and proofs, mathematics is a vital and creative way of thinking and seeing. It is ...

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Life By the Numbers

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Overview

Why do leopards grow spots when tigers grow stripes? Is the universe round, square, or some other shape? How do the dimples in a golf ball give it greater lift? Is there such a thing as a public mood? If so, how can we accurately take its pulse?

Only one tool of the human mind has the power and versatility to answer so many questions about our world—mathematics. Far from a musty set of equations and proofs, mathematics is a vital and creative way of thinking and seeing. It is the most powerful means we have of exploring our world and how it works, from the darkest depths of the oceans to the faintest glimmers of far-away galaxies, and from the aerodynamics of figure-skating jumps to the shadows of the fourth dimension.

In this captivating companion to the landmark PBS series Life by the Numbers, acclaimed author Keith Devlin reveals the astonishing range of creative and powerful ways in which scientists, artists, athletes, medical researchers, and many others are using mathematics to explore our world and to enhance our lives.

On this exhilarating tour you will explore deep-sea volcanoes with oceanographer Dawn Wright, go behind the scenes of blockbuster movies with special-effects designer Doug Trumbull, and probe the strange lives of viruses with microbiologist Sylvia Spengler. Listen to astronomer Robert Kirshner describe how he is charting the curve of space; discover how biologist Mike Labarbara visualizes the way a Tyrannosaurus rex carried its massive frame; and, along with brain researcher Brad Hatfield, peer into the mind of an Olympic markswoman at the moment she takes a shot. Glimpse a future of wearable computers and silicon "butlers" with computer scientist Pattie Maes, and watch a lilac come to life on screen with "computer botanist" Przemyslaw Prusinkiewicz.

Lavishly illustrated and beautifully written, Life by the Numbers brings mathematical exploration and invention to life through the stories of some of the most creative practitioners of the art. It imparts an appreciation of the ingenuity and the sheer fun of seeing our world through mathematical eyes.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Acclaim for Life by the Numbers

"Not in many, many years have I seen a book as instructive and enlightening about the beauty of mathematics. Life by the Numbers is truly superb. Sheer fun." —Amir Aczel, author of Fermat's Last Theorem

"A fascinating account of many of the ways in which mathematical ideas find application in the world around us. Keith Devlin is to be congratulated for bringing these ideas so accessibly to the public." —Sir Roger Penrose, author of The Emperor's New Mind

"This wondrous book reveals how, on the brink of the millennium, wizards are using math to bring movie dinosaurs to life, to improve tennis stars' serves, to win sailboat races, and to probe the eeriest corners of the cosmos. A pleasurable read for adult and young alike." —Keay Davidson, coauthor of Wrinkles in Time

Booknews
This companion to the PBS television series offers illustrated proof that mathematics is a vital and creative way of thinking and seeing, without using a single mathematical equation. Explores the range of ways in which scientists, artists, athletes, medical researchers, and others are using mathematics, and profiles present-day male and female pioneers in mathematics and science. Discussions ranging from deep-sea volcanos to movie special effects and wearable computers are illustrated with color photos and drawings. For general readers high school and up. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471328223
  • Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 3/1/1999
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 668,018
  • Product dimensions: 7.08 (w) x 8.81 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Meet the Author

Keith  Devlin

Dr. Keith Devlin is a mathematician at Stanford University in California. He is a co-founder and Executive Director of the university's H-STAR institute, a co-founder of the Stanford Media X research network, and a Senior Researcher at CSLI. He has written 31 books and over 80 published research articles. His books have been awarded the Pythagoras Prize and the Peano Prize, and his writing has earned him the Carl Sagan Award, and the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics Communications Award. In 2003, he was recognized by the California State Assembly for his "innovative work and longtime service in the field of mathematics and its relation to logic and linguistics." He is "the Math Guy" on National Public Radio. (Archived at http://www.stanford.edu/~kdevlin/MathGuy.html.)

He is a World Economic Forum Fellow and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His current research is focused on the use of different media to teach and communicate mathematics to diverse audiences. He also works on the design of information/reasoning systems for intelligence analysis. Other research interests include: theory of information, models of reasoning, applications of mathematical techniques in the study of communication, and mathematical cognition.

He writes a monthly column for the Mathematical Association of America, "Devlin's Angle": http://www.maa.org/devlin/devangle.html

Biography

Odds are, John Grisham doesn’t get interview questions like this: "If you could meet any mathematician, who would it be?"

But author Keith Devlin does, this time from Discover magazine as part of a January 2001 article coinciding with the publication of his book The Math Gene: How Mathematical Thinking Evolved and Why Numbers Are Like Gossip. His answer may go a long way toward explaining why he has managed to make the world of numbers not only understandable but also enjoyable to a segment of the population that can’t balance a checkbook without a net -- or backup from MIT.

“Isaac Newton,” Devlin told the inquiring minds at Discover. “He was a quarrelsome, egotistical person, but he also invented calculus. He did it, by the way, when he was a student at Cambridge. The Great Plague was going on, so the university was closed, and young Newton found himself without studies to do. Most 20-year-olds would think, ‘Whoopee! I’ll just have a good time.’ Newton went home and invented calculus.”

It is this same kind of passion for mathematics that has enabled Devlin, now the executive director of the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford University, to persuade readers that arithmetic, geometry and calculus can be a bracing addition to the stack on the bedside table. In The Math Gene, he explains the “innate sense of number” that lives inside the human mind and how the development of mathematical thinking is closely bound to the development of language. In Goodbye, Descartes: The End of Logic and the Search for a New Cosmology of the Mind, he argues against the possibility of artificial intelligence, saying that computers are simply logic machines that cannot replicate the rational thought and communication that are part of human smarts. In his newest book, The Millennium Problems: The Seven Greatest Unsolved Mathematical Puzzles of Our Time, he explains a historic competition announced by a Cambridge, Massachusetts foundation in 2000: Anyone who could solve any one of seven of the most perplexing math problems of the current age would win $1 million.

In a 1999 review, the Economist noted that “Devlin succeeds both in giving us a glimpse of the internal beauty of the subject and in demonstrating its usefulness in the external world. The Language of Mathematics is lucidly written and richly illustrated, and remains accessible and enthusiastic throughout.”

On NPR’s Weekend Edition, where he has become a regular guest, Devlin is referred to simply as “The Math Guy,” or as host Scott Simon once put it “our white knight of the world of mathematics.”

And, going back to that provocative subtitle in The Math Gene, just how is math like gossip? “Mathematicians deal with a collection of objects -- numbers, triangles, groups, fields -- and ask questions like: ‘What is the relationship between Objects X and Y?. If X does this to Y, what will Y do back to X?’” he told Discover. “It's got plot, it's got characters, it's got relationships between them, and it's got life and emotion and passion and love and hate, a bit of everything you can find in a soap opera. On the other hand, a soap opera isn't going to get you to the moon and back. Mathematics can.”

Just don’t forget to carry the 1.

Good To Know

Devlin was the coauthor of the television special A Mathematical Mystery Tour, broadcast as part of the Nova series in 1984.

He once offered as proof of the human brain’s intuitive math skills the ability to judge speed and distance while driving and the ability to add up bowling scores.

Devlin once managed to explain the mathematical difference between a knot and a tangle to National Public Radio’s listeners.

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    1. Hometown:
      Palo Alto, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 16, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Hull, England
    1. Education:
      B.S., King's College, London, 1968; Ph.D., University of Bristol, 1971

Table of Contents

The Invisible Universe.
Seeing is Believing.
Patterns of Nature.
The Numbers Game.
The Shape of the World.
Chances of a Lifetime.
A New Age.
It's an M World.
Further Reading.
Credits.
Index.
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