A couple of weeks ago I was asked to help out with the upcoming induction week for our mathematics undergraduate students. I am given one hour to give 70 students some idea of what they have come to study. After thinking about the question, “What is mathematics?”, I have found the following four-fold answer.
Mathematics helps us to…
- … find precise answers to precise questions.
- … find approximate answers to vague questions.
- … interpret answers that seem precise but are not.
- … figure out the right questions to ask.
Below I have tried to develop these points and to supplement them with examples. The text below is addressed at first year students of mathematics at Brunel University.