So says agnostic mathematician David Berlinski in a new book, notes David Klinghoffer in “The Glory Beyond: David Berlinski’s Elementary Mathematics” (Evolution News & Views, July 30, 2011):
His new book, One, Two, Three: Absolutely Elementary Mathematics, is a beautiful, brief, and very funny introduction to the history and philosophy behind basic math. It returns again and again to the allusiveness of numbers and the operations we perform on them. They allude, they point to, they gesture to something beyond themselves. Just what that might be, of course — of course, if you know anything about David Berlinski — Berlinski won’t say.
There’s an Internet site where you can learn odd, interesting facts about numbers- which won’t tell you what the numbers point to either, only that they are less boring than you supposed, and could well point to something. More on Berlinski’s book:
Absolutely Elementary Mathematics, or AEM as he abbreviates it, begins with and in a sense is encompassed by the act of counting by one. How can we justify even so seemingly simple an act as adding two numbers together and relying on the result? Addition as well as subtraction, multiplication and division, numbers in their varieties and modes of representation, theorems and proofs, exponents and logarithms, structures and sets, the inventors and theoreticians of AEM themselves, from ancient, anonymous Sumerian merchants to the Persian al-Khwarizmi (c. 780-850) who introduced Hindu-Arabic numerals to the West, to the vaulting geniuses of the nineteenth century and a bit beyond: It’s all covered with remarkable grace and wit, a richness of authorial personality and soul that breathes through everywhere. And Berlinski does it in fewer than just two hundred pages.
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