“Why are numbers beautiful? It’s like asking why is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony beautiful. If you don’t see why, someone can’t tell you. I know numbers are beautiful. If they aren’t beautiful, nothing is.” (Paul Erdõs)

Many mathematicians would say that one of the reasons for their fascination for mathematics is its beauty. G.H. Hardy writes in his book “A Mathematician Apology” (1940): “Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics”. For Hardy being a mathematician is in first place being an artist. However, this is certainly not what most non-mathematicians think of the subject: their view is coined by a bad attitude towards mathematics resulting from bad school teaching. In a nutshell, mathematics to them is in first place a technical process and has nothing to do with beauty.

According to Paul Erdõs, the beauty of mathematics does not seem to be accessible to everyone. He argues that everybody has to “see” it on his or her own. In my paper I want to argue the contrary and want to draw on attempts to bridge this gap. Authors of popular science books on mathematics try to give an insight into the manifold connections between mathematics and beauty and even more between mathematics and culture by referring to the close relationship between mathematics and art.

How do they approach the topic? What are the typical examples they work with? Which strategies do they apply to succeed? In my paper I will look into some examples of how authors of popular science books on mathematics succeed in communicating the beauty of mathematics and the relatedness of mathematics with art and culture and thus drawing a picture of mathematics as an important part of human culture.

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No place for ugly mathematics
Communicating mathematics through literature

Martina Gröschl   University of Klagenfurt and Austrian Academy of Sciences

“Why are numbers beautiful? It’s like asking why is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony beautiful. If you don’t see why, someone can’t tell you. I know numbers are beautiful. If they aren’t beautiful, nothing is.” (Paul Erdõs)

Many mathematicians would say that one of the reasons for their fascination for mathematics is its beauty. G.H. Hardy writes in his book “A Mathematician Apology” (1940): “Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics”. For Hardy being a mathematician is in first place being an artist. However, this is certainly not what most non-mathematicians think of the subject: their view is coined by a bad attitude towards mathematics resulting from bad school teaching. In a nutshell, mathematics to them is in first place a technical process and has nothing to do with beauty.

According to Paul Erdõs, the beauty of mathematics does not seem to be accessible to everyone. He argues that everybody has to “see” it on his or her own. In my paper I want to argue the contrary and want to draw on attempts to bridge this gap. Authors of popular science books on mathematics try to give an insight into the manifold connections between mathematics and beauty and even more between mathematics and culture by referring to the close relationship between mathematics and art.

How do they approach the topic? What are the typical examples they work with? Which strategies do they apply to succeed? In my paper I will look into some examples of how authors of popular science books on mathematics succeed in communicating the beauty of mathematics and the relatedness of mathematics with art and culture and thus drawing a picture of mathematics as an important part of human culture.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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