August 18, 1998

My Queen

Two years ago, when I was a senior in college, I took a class in the history of mathematics. It had nothing to do with either of my majors, but I was so close to graduation, and I knew the professor teaching the class, and it sounded interesting, and I needed some extra class credits to graduate, so I took the class. Since that time, I've gotten to doing some other reading in the history of mathematics, although I hadn't been doing mathematics really. But in the last few weeks, I've decided to take the plunge, and get into mathematics more seriously.

You see, I have this calculus book that I got for free from a garage sale last year. And lately, I've been doing some of the problems in the book, and I have to say, I have been having a LOT of fun with the book. I love doing the problems in the book. I've been getting a real thrill with the book--so much that I've been seriously thinking about getting or finding or borrowing books in other more advanced mathematical topics. And yet, I didn't care all that about doing math over the course of my education. Sure, I took a fair amount of math in high school and a couple of courses in college, but I didn't care for math then the way that I do now.

There's a saying that mathematics is the queen of the sciences. And speaking solely for myself, I would agree with this assessment, or at least with personifying mathematics as a woman, because the pleasure, the raw thrill, that I often get from doing mathematics, is such that the only thing for me that compares with doing mathematics is the pleasure, the raw thrill, that I would get from seeing a beautiful woman.

And I think that my thinking of mathematics as a woman is appropriate for me in another way. During these same past few weeks, when I've been doing some more serious math, I'm constantly reminded of a Sunday comic strip I saw many years ago. It was a Family Circus strip: little Jeffy met a little girl for the first time, and he was not at all enthused. He didn't care for her, and he started crying, so she started crying. Then they showed Jeffy and this little girl 20 or 25 years later, just as they're getting married.

I keep thinking that Jeffy's relationship with this girl kind of parallels my relationship with math. I wonder if this love affair that I have now with math may one day lead to some kind of a marriage. I wonder if mathematics may one day be my queen. I wonder if that day hasn't already come.