Tag Archives: why

Revision 1: Inquisitive Mathematical Thinking


In this post I wish to expand my understanding about, “asking Why?“.

In 1930, David Hilbert gave radio address lecture. I want to discuss following paragraph from that lecture (when translated to English):

With astonishing sharpness, the great mathematician POINCARÉ once attacked TOLSTOY, who had suggested that pursuing “science for science’s sake” is foolish. The achievements of industry, for example, would never have seen the light of day had the practical-minded existed alone and had not these advances been pursued by disinterested fools.

Science exists because we (human beings) want to find reason for everything happening around us (like how air molecules interact, which bacteria is harmful…) . We claim that this will enrich our understanding of the nature thus enabling us to make rational decisions (like when should I invest my money in stock market, from how much hight I can jump without hurting myself…).

Let me illustrate the point I want to make: Mathematicians make observations about real/abstract objects (shape of universe/klein bottle) and try to explain them using logical arguments based on some accepted truths (axioms/postulates). But today we have “science” for almost every academic discipline possible. Therefore, we (human beings) have become so much obsessed with finding reasons for everything that we even want to know why the things happened a moment ago so that we are able to predict what will happen in a moment from now. So the question is:

Should there be a reason for everything?

Can’t some thing just be happening around us for no reason. Why we try to model everything using psedo-randomness and try to extract a meaning from it? In case you are thinking that probability helps us understanding purely random events, you are wrong. We assume events to be purely random, we are never sure of their randomness and based on this assumption we determine chances of that event to happen which infact tells nothing about future (like an event with 85% chances of happening may not happen in next trial).

In same spirit, I can ask: “Should there be reason for you being victim of a terrorist attack?” We can surely track down a chain of past events (and even the bio-chemical pathways) leading to the attack and you being a victim of it.

Why we try to give “luck” as reason for some events? Is this our way of acknowledging randomness or our inability to find reason?

Moreover, David Hilbert ends his lecture with following slogan (in German):

Wir müssen wissen, Wir werden wissen.

which  when translated to English means: “We must know, we will know.”.

Inquisitive Mathematical Thinking


Being a budding mathematician, I took these words seriously:

Mathematics is not only solving for x but also figuring out y (why).
Arthur Benjamin

To ask ‘Why?” is easiest and most of times a difficult question to answer. Also mathematics encourages asking “Why?” after each argument.
For example:

  • Why earth rotates in west to east direction?
  • Why do we follow PEMDAS rule in Algebra ? (Answer)
  • Why people don’t like me?
  • Why force is equal to mass times acceleration?

But not all questions can be answered, as there are (proved to be) unanswerable questions  in mathematics like Continuum Hypothesis.

So one fine morning I got up and asked myself “Why I am alive?” .  There must be some reason behind this as I am alive for last 18 years. [This is just an innocent question which doesn’t implies that I want to die!]

I have tried reading some holy texts and they say that:

Meaningful life is living for others.

So in that case four possible answers came to my mind:

First possible answer came to my mind was “I am alive for my mother“. So to confirm it I called her (from my mobile phone) and realized that it is not a permanent answer (what if she dies before me?).

Second possible answer came to my mind was “I am alive for contributing something to mathematics“. Now mathematics is immortal, hooray! But at same time takes me away from real world (as I am interested in pure mathematics rather than applied mathematics). Which make me feel lonely and I have an urge to take drugs [like Paul Erdős]. Actually there is always a big threat behind worshiping the work too much. So I was not very much satisfied by this answer also.

Third possible answer can to my mind was “I am alive to show others the beauty of nature“. Let me illustrate this :
Whenever NISER students go to canteen they encounter a large number of Mimosa pudica plants, but I wonder how many of them notice such wonderful plants surrounding them.
But idea of beauty being abstract is different for different people and should be discovered by one on his/her own. I can try to motivate others and keep myself satisfied that I am contributing something to mankind. So far I was very convinced by this answer. But I still thought further.

Fourth possible answer came to my mind was “I am alive to find and interact with my best friend“. Now this search can itself be lifelong, challenging and luck based. Also then I would depend on others for happiness. Thus I won’t be independent. I will be more emotional. I think this is definition of human. But still he will be mortal, and cause similar kind of problem as in case of living for my mother.

Fifth possible answer came to my mind was “In am alive to find and interact with a life long partner“. Now this relation is some what immortal, at least as compared to my lifetime. But this search is in itself stressful and purely luck based and may need a divine intervention. Here again I would depend on someone else for happiness. This is most dangerous option , I can ever think of (the romantic songs are just spoilers). As a wrong decision can be fatal. Let me illustrate this with a real life story:
Évariste Galois apparently fell in love with Stephanie-Felice du Motel, the daughter of the resident physician. Galois exchanged letters with Stephanie, and it is clear that she tried to distance herself from the affair. The name Stephanie appears several times as a marginal note in one of Galois’ manuscripts. Galois fought a duel with Perscheux d’Herbinville , the reason for the duel not being clear but certainly linked with Stephanie. Galois was wounded in the duel and was abandoned by d’Herbinville and his own seconds and found by a peasant. He died in Cochin hospital on 31 May and his funeral was held on 2 June.
After thinking for a while I could rank my preferences for being alive:

  1. To show others beauty of nature
  2. To contribute something to mathematics
  3. For my mother
  4. To find  and interact to a life long buddy
  5. To find and interact a life long partner (being a ‘human’ still couldn’t rule out this option!)

I must accept that life is beautiful just because it is dynamic. So whatever reason I may state for being alive is going to be difficult. The more chaotic my life is, more blessed I am.