The Math Gene: How Mathematical Thinking Evolved and Why Numbers Are Like Gossip

The Math Gene: How Mathematical Thinking Evolved and Why Numbers Are Like Gossip

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by Keith Devlin
     
 

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Why is math so hard? And why, despite this difficulty, are some people so good at it? If there’s some inborn capacity for mathematical thinking—which there must be, otherwise no one could do it —why can’t we all do it well? Keith Devlin has answers to all these difficult questions, and in giving them shows us how mathematical ability evolved,…  See more details below

Overview


Why is math so hard? And why, despite this difficulty, are some people so good at it? If there’s some inborn capacity for mathematical thinking—which there must be, otherwise no one could do it —why can’t we all do it well? Keith Devlin has answers to all these difficult questions, and in giving them shows us how mathematical ability evolved, why it’s a part of language ability, and how we can make better use of this innate talent.He also offers a breathtakingly new theory of language development—that language evolved in two stages, and its main purpose was not communication—to show that the ability to think mathematically arose out of the same symbol-manipulating ability that was so crucial to the emergence of true language. Why, then, can’t we do math as well as we can speak? The answer, says Devlin, is that we can and do—we just don’t recognize when we’re using mathematical reasoning.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble, Inc.
Whether he's instructing us about the mathematical skills of four month old babies, describing the deep structure of language or explaining where one of the theories of Jean Piaget went askew, Keith Devlin is lucid. The man who taught us that mathematics is the science of making the invisible visible knows that the keys to good science writing are clarity and simplicity. Of course, it helps that this subject matter is vital: One can't dispute the importance of improving our math skills or understanding the chicken and egg controversy of language evolution. Math Gene succeeds because the plainness of its exposition is match by the excitement of its ideas. Fine beach reading.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465016198
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
04/28/2001
Edition description:
First Paperback Edition
Pages:
328
Sales rank:
971,579
Product dimensions:
5.32(w) x 8.02(h) x 0.90(d)

What People are saying about this

Ian Stewart
. . . an instant antidote to math phobia and a pleasure to read. (Ian Stewart, author of (Nature's Numbers and Life's Other Secret)

Meet the Author


Keith Devlin is the Dean of the School of Social Science at St. Mary's College, Moraga, California, and a Senior Researcher at the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford University. He is the author of 22 books, one interactive CD-ROM, and over 65 technical research papers in mathematics. His voice is heard regularly on National Public Radio, on such programs as "Weekend Edition," "Talk of the Nation," "Science Friday," "Sounds Like Science," and "To the Best of Our Knowledge." His previous books include Life by the Numbers, the companion to a PBS series that aired in April and May, 1998; Goodbye Descartes: The End of Logic; and The Language of Mathematics: Making the Invisible Visible.

Brief Biography

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

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4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
AnnieBM More than 1 year ago
Devlin presents an interesting, well-thought out, and insightful hypothesis about mathematical thinking. Although I would argue with some of the details, there is much to be appreciated in his presentation. I think the hypothesis should be reformulated and investigated by the appropriate disciplines. I was particularly captured by his suggestion that mathematics is like gossip -- and I can agree. This image, this similarity takes mathematical thinking and numbers out of the realm of cold, hard, distant things and makes them approachable friends. I find this idea quite freeing. Recommended for those interested in brain evolution,thinking, mathematics, and for those who think they can't do mathematics -- it's just gossip.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because it was to discuss why some people have a harder time doing math than others. Why do mathematicians find math so easy while the rest of us seem to struggle? While the book doesn't discuss much about an actual math 'gene' it does discuss evolutionary ideas about how humans developed a more complex ability to do mathematics than other species. While some of the reasoning may be pure conjecture, the ideas presented are thoroughly fascinating and well worth the read. Devlin also refers to the development of mathematical ability in children which is equally interesting for parents of young children.