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What is Mathematics?

Once I asked a Year 7 student in a New Zealand school what mathematics is. The answer I got was that mathematics is about numbers and patterns of numbers; this definition only describes part of what mathematics is all about.

The Oxford Dictionary of Mathematics defines mathematics as the branch of study of numbers, quantities, data, and space and their relationships, especially their generalisations and abstractions and their applications to situations in the real world.

According to Casti (2001), mathematics consists of axioms, proofs, concepts, definitions, theories, formulas and methods, which are all essential to mathematics; and to solve problems is at the very heart of mathematics.

One of the most famous intellectual achievements in mathematics was, and still is, the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem - a riddle which had puzzled and tantalised the greatest mathematicians for more than 300 years. In 1994, Andrew Wiles, a young mathematician, successfully proved the theorem after eight years of hard work.

I always think that everyone should know more about mathematics beyond the school experience.




Casti, J. L. (2001). Mathematical mountaintops. New York: Oxford University Press.

Clapham, C., & Nicholson, J. (2005). A concise dictionary of mathematics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Singh, S.(1997). Fermat's last theorem. London: Harper perennial.



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