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Mathematics is a team sport



For more reasons than mathematicians being notoriously bad at sports, you were probably surprised by the title. After all, Mathematics seems to be a field defined by the accomplishments of individuals. You will have undoubtably come across theorems with various names plastered on them, (some more commonly than others) and perhaps wondered HOW they managed to create entirely new mathematical concepts from thin air. And quotes like "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants" don't really help, as they define progress as a mantel passed from one genius to another.


I would suggest a slightly different narrative, however.


I sometimes visualise mathematics as blindly finding our way through a maze of infinite routes. We can either choose to continue on the paths that others have chosen and which seem to lead in the direction of success, or we can start entirely from the beginning and forge a new paths through. It is of course important to recognise the individuals who began - it must have been a daunting process to construct non-tangible systems with no form of verification or criteria. Equally, it is completely true that individual genius has allowed for huge jumps in our ways of thinking (steps forward); often the most difficult thing to do is restart and go back on a comfortable path. But every route taken expands our map of the maze, and small steps can be vital in connecting long but separate routes.


Regardless of the question now posed (is there anything at the centre (which for me is a little irrelevant)), never feel as if your individual contributions to mathematics are insignificant, or that mathematics only should belong to the geniuses of our world. We need them don't get me wrong, but we have only seen as far as we have because of the collective, well documented trials of every single mathematician that has come before us. Some forge ahead, while others explore local areas.


Everyone stands to benefit from the study of mathematics, both by participating or reaping the benefits of its insight: I can't imagine it is easy for a stack of giants to stand without a little bit of support.

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