Thinking out loud

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Unknown

We are always fascinated with that which we do not know. We are drawn towards things we do not understand. That is our basic nature. It is this basic nature that helps us learn to walk, talk, hold hands and laugh while we are still very young. But it seems, as we grow older and learn some things, we tend to get comfortable in what we know. We come to believe all that we know. We fear to tread into the unknown, for we learn about fear itself. We fear that we might stumble upon something which disagrees with something we already know. We come to fear for our bodies and avoid anything which can potentially cause physical harm.

Yet that basic urge, the basic attraction towards the unknown is so clearly visible when we stare in awe as a magician lifts up a woman with a wave of his hand or when a skillful hacker easily slips into somebody's email account. We are positively thrilled. We crave to know how it is done. We wish to be able to do it ourselves. Yet these are performing arts and performing arts are bound to attract.

Even so, why should the unknown realms of mathematics be any less fascinating. Perhaps the hurdle is the sheer amount one has to already know before one begins to appreciate the beauty of the unknown crevices of mathematics. This seems to be true of all the old areas of study, physics, psychology or architecture.

Is there no way these mundane subjects can be turned into performing arts. They say that science and art are different. Yet perhaps, a man may be able to perfect science to an art. Or simply give it a beautiful face. A recursive relation, for example, in complex dynamics can become something as beautiful as the Mandelbrot Set.

I know that putting a beautiful face on the equations of mathematics does not necessarily make them easier to learn, just as a skillfully performed magic trick does not make it easier to perform. Perhaps by turning these mundane subjects into performing arts however, we might rekindle our desire and resolve to understand and further them. Thus, are we perhaps more in need of magicians who can take a theorem on markov chains and turn it into a theory for why cab-drivers won't drive you from Gateway of India to Churchgate station, rather than wizened old professors who can recite verbatim the 23 definitions from Euclid's elements? Opinions are divided.


  • Great write-up! I agree with your analysis of the fascination of the unknown. But well, some things are best left to the learner. For some, the equations are reward enough. For others, you need to weave the magic!

    P.S. - Had come here from Manas's blog.

    By Blogger Sudipta Chatterjee, at 1:59 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home