The truth is that we encounter mathematicians everywhere, every day, but we hardly ever know it… It simply doesn’t occur to us that our bank manager might have a degree in math, or that the people who invent or manufacture DVDs and MP3 players employ large numbers of mathematicians, or that the technology that transmits those stunning pictures of the moons of Jupiter relies heavily on math.
I sometimes think that the best way to change the public attitude toward math would be to stick a red label on everything that uses mathematics. ‘Math inside.’ There would be a label on every computer, of course… But we should also place a red math sticker on every airline ticket, every telephone, every car, every airplane, every traffic light, every vegetable…the Internet… GPS systems.
Your entire life bobs like a small boat on a vast ocean of mathematics. But hardly anyone notices. Hiding the math away makes us all feel comfortable, but it devalues mathematics. That is a shame. It makes people think that math isn’t useful, that it doesn’t matter, that it’s just intellectual games without any true significance. Which is why I’d like to see those red stickers. In fact, the best reason not to use them is that most of the planet would be covered with them.—Letters to a Young Mathematician, Ian Stewart
Is this the picture of mathematics that you have? Mathematics is everywhere. Pick almost any area of study or interest, and mathematics is there, lurking in the background. Don’t think for a minute, though, that because mathematics is useful, it isn’t also beautiful. People often mistake mathematics for number crunching or equation manipulation. Yes, those things are involved in mathematics, but that’s not what mathematics is.
Think about literature. Do you consider literature to simply be capitalizing the first word of a sentence, and ending every sentence with a period? No; grammar is part of literature, but that’s not what literature is. Literature tries to say something. In a similar way, numbers and equations are the grammar of mathematics, but once you understand those things, mathematics is trying to say something. What is it trying to say? Come get involved, and find out for yourself!
An adventure awaits you, if you are up to the challenge. Welcome to the study of mathematics.