Former guest on Strongly Connected Components Steven Strogatz has been having a rather good year. Not only did he appear on our podcast, he told part of the story from his new book The Calculus of Friendship, just finished it myself a couple of weeks ago it is a great read you should go and buy it, on the Numbers Episode of Radio Lab, and he now also blogs for the New York Times. Strogatz has become a part of Opinionator group of blogs over at the New York Times website where he is writing a series of posts about mathematics in wonderfully descriptive plain language, he started with a post about numbers and is now on roots. From that first post:
Children learn from this that numbers are wonderful shortcuts. Instead of saying the word “fish” exactly as many times as there are penguins, Humphrey could use the more powerful concept of “six.”
As adults, however, we might notice a potential downside to numbers. Sure, they are great time savers, but at a serious cost in abstraction. Six is more ethereal than six fish, precisely because it’s more general. It applies to six of anything: six plates, six penguins, six utterances of the word “fish.” It’s the ineffable thing they all have in common.
No matter who you are Strogatz’s exposition is plenty good enough to hold your attention, and the content is parse-able by anyone. If you are a mathematician go and read this to help reground yourself in the most basic contents, then go tell all the non-mathematicians you know to go read this so they know what the hell you have been talking about for all these years. (Strogatz Opionionator)