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September 16, 2013

Appreciation of Mathematics

by Rev. A. J. Iovine

Most people cannot believe that I love the New York Times even though I disagree with its editorial positions on most issues and angrily yank what’s left of my hair out of my head when I see how story selection is spun against conservatives.

Without a doubt, the New York Times has been a stalwart of ideas and thought for decades, regardless of one’s political belief. The newspaper covers performance art, science, international news, and even sports with a deep and rich quality not found in other newspapers. Though it carries the locale “New York” in its title, its metropolitan section has been lackluster, even though it employs my favorite local columnist, Jim Dwyer. However, even as it minimizes local coverage, what they do cover locally is wonderfully composed and presented, a richness that other local newspapers cannot equal.

While some of its op-ed columnists I can do without, the best part of reading the Times is the ability to turn the page when you see their names that will make you angry. Paul Krugman leads my list of “Columnists I Will Never Read.” His presentation of economic thought is clearly couched in some odd Keynesian theory that, when found to be wrong time and time again, Krugman seems to double down and attacks supply side theory.

The great richness of the op-ed page of the “newspaper of record” is that you can never really know what you will find printed on those pages. This morning’s op-ed provides a wonderful example.

The title: “How to Fall In Love with Math.”

The op-ed, written by Professor Manil Suri of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, attempts to direct the reader to consider mathematics not as something that is just used to balance one’s checkbook, but as something grander and more thoughtfully complex than just adding and subtracting. Personally, I rarely think of math outside of looking at my bank statement each month. But what if we human beings can look at math at a deeper level, appreciating it for more than just digits on a balance sheet. As Professor Suri writes:

“Think of it this way: you can appreciate art without acquiring the ability to paint, or enjoy a symphony without being able to read music. Math also deserves to be enjoyed for its own sake, without being constantly subjected to the question, ‘When will I use this?'”

For me, I’ve never thought of mathematics outside of the adding-subtracting box. Though I use plenty of technology in my life that is heavily mathematical at its core, my personal thoughts have never considered the importance of how everything we see and think is deeply intwined with math.

No other newspaper would print an op-ed approaching this quality. The New York Post, a newspaper that is my favorite, would never run an article about math or the theory behind mathematical thought. But the Times would. I believe there aren’t many op-eds printed today on newspaper websites that will push me to think outside of the box.


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