Last semester, during a pre-calculus class, we were just beginning to tackle a particularly nasty type of equation, when my friend John asked rhetorically, “Why did they invent math?!”. This query, which left most of our class without an answer, though they were in complete agreement, got me to thinking… would math exist without us?
I know that you’re probably thinking that even if superior intelligence-enriched homo sapiens didn’t exist on earth, two apples on the ground would still be one apple plus one apple equals two apples, but I’m referring to graphs, formulas, quadratic equations and radical numbers.
Personally, I think math would exist with or without us. In theory, anyway. The first thing that I would consider in my evaluation is whether or not humans can create and/or modify things that can’t be seen, touched, heard, smelled or tasted. Well, we know that no matter what, one plus one equals two. Human beings didn’t create that, we just came up with a way to represent it using symbols: 1 + 1 = 2. We could apply this rationale globally, and say that we can’t create something that can’t be sensed in any way, shape or form. Math is simply a number of theories and ideas, represented by numbers, and put into practical use by humans. Much is the case with all rational/irrational numbers, formulas, graphs and equations.
My only wrinkle is with negative numbers. I think we invented negative numbers. Logic would suggest that you can’t have any fewer apples than zero, or anything else. This begs the question “Why would we create numbers that have no place in reality?” My only answer (in which I have no confidence) to this applies to the field of physics. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think negative numbers are used to illustrate what I call “reverse velocity”… going backwards.
In conclusion, I think math is around whether we like it or not, but just be glad that we didn’t invent it. If we did, then it could be postulated that we could destroy it. Though I’m sure this would suit John and most other students just fine, I think it’s just too important to pass up.