The Math Gene: How Mathematical Thinking Evolved And Why Numbers Are Like Gossip [NOOK Book]

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

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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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786725083
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 5/17/2001
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 955,157
  • File size: 1,014 KB

Meet the Author

Keith  Devlin
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.

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

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 29, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Math is Gossip

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2002

    Never thought I would enjoy reading a book about math

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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