Hexed Post: ∞

You may recall my last post mentioning this book:


Well fortunately I read the heck out of this thing so I’m going to talk about it briefly. Last time I mentioned how surprised I was to find this book by chance in a bookstore. It’s by an author I’ve read very much about, and I had no idea he produced any text on mathematics. (Indeed, I found out about another very famous author who has strong emphasis on math in his fiction work: Thomas Pynchon.) I plan to read Wallace’s other work in the near future. There is much agreement about the impenetrable nature of his fiction work, so I consider this nonfiction work, where his goal is to help me understand, a good introduction to his style. Indeed, I found the very first section an absolutely delightful prose on abstraction and epistemology that everyone should read. The rest of the book reads as though it’s constantly unsure of itself, even apologizing on occasion as well, though it can get annoying. David Foster Wallace talked a bit about this in an interview I watched about his book. He described writing the book as “trying to take somebody up on an elevator at the same time you’re building the shaft.”¹ But I enjoyed DFW’s unrestrained use of footnotes²,  acronyms, and bonus factoids. And something I’m really glad that David made sure of was emphasis on context. I think this is a huge gap in math education when it’s not there, because the context of the development and discovery is what makes math beautiful; not just suddenly going from Zeno’s paradox to a/(1-r) as David said. Where’s the learning in that?

I’m not completely sure where to go next after finishing this book, but I will be scouring the sources in the bibliography, where I’ve already found the names of several authors that I’ve mentioned in my blog already. So I think this was a good leaping off point.

I find there are a very limited number of math topics that authors can present to a nonprofessional audience, a very popular one being the topic of this book: infinity. Indeed, the nature of infinity is not intuitive and can be mind blowing to the unexposed. Though there is more known about it than you’d initially think, there still remains much mystery, which makes it even more enticing. It is a popular topic for math content creators on YouTube especially. Recently Vsauce has been producing a lot of decent math content, most of it on, believe it or not, infinity. Links: 1 2 3. Another video: 4. So there you have it, I recommend learning a bit about infinity, it’s a mind bending topic for sure.

¹The Interview (YouTube version) accessed 5/10/16. I really enjoyed the interview for giving both a greater context on the book and the author.

²In tribute


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