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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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(p.216) Chapter 24 Conclusion
Enlightening Symbols

Joseph Mazur

Princeton University Press

This concluding chapter argues that symbols contribute to the beauty in mathematics—the elegance of proofs, simplicity of exposition, ingenuities, simplification of complexities, making sensible connections. It explains how equations built from simple symbols become symbols in their own right, offering powerful connections to the idea that something innocuous can occur over and over again in seemingly unrelated fields, sometimes relating the ephemeral to the physical. It compares mathematical symbols to symbols in poetry, noting that both perform the same function: to make connections between experience and the unknown and to transfer metaphorical thoughts capable of conveying meaning. While individual symbols may not have much effect on a mathematician's creative thinking, the chapter suggests that in groups they acquire powerful connections through similarity, association, identity, resemblance and repeated imagery.

Keywords:   symbols, mathematics, proofs, equations, poetry, metaphor, thought, meaning

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