Liberal Arts Math Response Paper
A response paper is YOUR thinking in response to the question about the book you choose. You SHOULD NOT consult other outside critical sources about the books or reference them in your essay. This is NOT a research paper. Make sure you completely address the question in your response. The best papers will also offer specific examples from the book to support points. Do not quote extensively. Assume your reader is familiar with the book. It is enough to mention some moment in the text. Your essay should exhibit all the marks of good writing–organization, development, unity, coherence, correct grammar, and proper format.
Answer ONE question under the book you have chosen to read.
Flatland by Edwin Abbott
- The Circles in Flatland manage nearly every aspect of life in Flatland. Using examples from the novel, discuss whether their way of management is done to protect their power, or is in the best interests of the citizens.
- Do you think Abbott created Flatland in order to satirize Victorian society or to model a utopian world? Support your choice with specific examples that also demonstrate the contrast between the two possibilities.
- The author discusses one, two, and three dimensional worlds. What are his thoughts on each? Give examples from the book .
The Secret Life of Numbers by George Szpiro
- How did this book break your stereotype of mathematicians? Give examples from the book to justify your conclusions.
- Agree or disagree with this statement: “Math really does affect almost every aspect of life from law to geography, elections to botany.” Give examples from the book to justify your conclusion.
Fermat’s Enigma by Simon Singh
- Although Singh doesn’t actually explain the Wiles proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, he does provide an explanation of the mathematical process of proof. What IS this process, and (given the understanding you gained from this book), why is it an important concept? Provide specific examples from the book to support your conclusions.
- Singh’s book has been described as “humanizing” the subject of mathematics. How does he accomplish this (provide specific examples), and why do you believe that this is an important goal?
- The author mentions several other famous, unsolved problems in mathematics. Name at least two and discuss them using ideas from the book.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
- The following statement appears in the book: “Intuition can sometimes get things wrong. But logic can help you work out the right answer.” Does logic lead Christopher to the right answers? How important is intuition in this novel? How important is logic? Use specific examples from the novel to support your conclusions.
- The author uses the literary technique of the “unreliable narrator” where the narrator gives a limited or possibly false version of the story, and the reader must work out the real story. Where (specifically) in the novel is the narrator unreliable, and what impact did this have on your experience of reading the novel and your understanding of the main character?
- Haddon’s novel provides a wonderful glimpse into the world of non-autistic persons, through the eyes of an autistic person. Examine, for example, the tee-shirt slogan that Christopher quotes and his comments on the idea of “chatting.” When bits and pieces of the world are isolated and discussed in this way, they modify our own perceptions of the world. Locate and discuss at least three other instances in the novel (other than the tee-shirt slogan and “chatting”) when Christopher isolates and interprets some aspect the non-autistic world and indicate how these altered your perception of these things.
Mathematician’s Brain by David Ruelle
- In Chapter 17, the author sums up his ideas about the human endeavor which is doing mathematics:
I have just described human mathematics as a labyrinth of ideas, through which the mathematicians wanders, in search of the proof of a theorem. The ideas are human, and they belong to a human mathematical culture, but they are also very much constrained by the logical structure of the subject. The infinite labyrinth of mathematics has thus the dual character of human construction and logical necessity. And this endows the labyrinth with a strange beauty.
Discuss (and explain) Ruelle’s use of a “labyrinth” as a metaphor for the intellectual process of mathematicians. What is a labyrinth, and what makes it an apt metaphor?
- According to Ruelle, what are the psychological and personality traits required of a mathematician? Why are these required, and what examples does he provide to support this?
- Ruelle poses a provocative question about history’s most brilliant mathematicians—whether they were brilliant because of their eccentricities or in spite of them. What conclusions did YOU reach after reading his book?
Zero: the biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife.
- The author covers the emergence of zero in the eastern civilizations and the problems and advances caused by this emergence. Explain a few of these problems and advances.
- Seife states that the dual ideas of emptiness and infinity shaped the cultural changes taking place in the Renaissance. How did these ideas affect the other branches of learning in this time period?
- The author gives a history of modern chemistry and physics and demonstrates the importance of zero and infinity in the formation of various modern scientific laws. Relate specific examples.
- The author discusses Einstein’s addition of a “cosmological constant” to his theories. Why did Einstein feel the need to make this adjustment? How is this addition viewed today?
The Number Sense by Stanislas Dehaene
- What does the author maintain regarding knowledge of the operations of addition and subtraction in animals and infants? Describe the experiments he uses to draw his conclusions.
- In what way does the author separate the numbers 1, 2, and 3 from all other natural numbers? Give specific examples from the book.
- The author suggests a possible reason for the difference in speed of computations among people of different languages. What is this suggestion? Do you agree with the author?
The Math Gene by Keith Devlin
- The author uses “trees” to discuss the composition of language. Explain this concept and its similarity to a concept in mathematics.
- Two reasons are given in the book to explain why humans are the only species to understand the numerical world beyond three. Explain these reasons.
- The author states that the main use of language is gossip. How does he define gossip and how does he support this statement?