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Enlightening SymbolsA Short History of Mathematical Notation and Its Hidden Powers$
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Joseph Mazur

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780691173375

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691173375.001.0001

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Rendezvous in the Mind

Rendezvous in the Mind

(p.179) Chapter 20 Rendezvous in the Mind
Enlightening Symbols

Joseph Mazur

Princeton University Press

This chapter explains how the connection between algebra and geometry gives us the patterns, associations, similarities, and strange rendezvous in the mind that are veiled by words alone. Before the sixteenth century, mathematics was readable to anyone who wished to parse its language, its springs, its gears, and its logic. By the eighteenth century, the language of mathematics was far too symbolized for people to read without a great deal of preliminary tutoring. It was not so much that the quantity of symbols had grown. Symbols packed in notational sentences provided packets of information whose contents were known only to those who had the time and talent, or the patience to open those packets. The chapter considers the ways that mathematical symbols enable us to focus on the patterns, the symmetries, the similarities, the differences that might appear rather dim and blurred through the lens of natural language.

Keywords:   algebra, geometry, mathematics, symbols, notation, natural language

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