[CvGmt News] Childhood stories of mathematics

Carlo Mantegazza c.mantegazza at sns.it
Mon Dec 21 16:38:51 CET 2009

I send this unusual request to every mathematician or mathematically
educated person.

I am writing a book on mathematical thinking, and I ask you to kindly
pass to me your recollections of challenges you encountered in your
early learning of mathematics. Such stories provide a fascinating
insight into the psychology of mathematical thinking and frequently lead
to surprisingly deep mathematics. One example of what I am looking for:

A girl aged 6 easily solved “put a number in the box” problems of the
type 7 + [ ] = 12, by counting how many 1’s she had to add to 7 in order
to get 12 but struggled with [ ] + 6 = 11, because she did not know
where to start. Worse, she felt for years that she could not communicate
her difficulty to adults.

This example is one of many from my forthcoming book “Shadows of the
Truth: Metamathematics of Elementary Mathematics”,
A much shorter version of the text will soon appear as a paper and can
be found at http://www.maths.manchester.ac.uk/~avb/Vienna_08.pdf

Why do I appeal to mathematicians? Because you have a language that
allows you to express your childhood difficulties – for laymen, my
request would be much harder.

Please send your stories at borovik at manchester.ac.uk. Please also give
me the following details:

[*] Your age when a particular episode happened.

[*] What was the language of mathematical instruction? Was it different
from your mother tongue?

My warmest thanks!

Alexandre Borovik

- Professor Alexandre Borovik - www.maths.manchester.ac.uk/~avb/
- Check my book/blog http://micromath.wordpress.com/

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