Math in the Media

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Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"'Soft' Mathematics Can Help Us Understand the Human Mind," by Keith Devlin. The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 8, 1997, pages B4-B5

In this editorial, Devlin makes a case for the development of "soft mathematics," a blend of mathematics and the social sciences which he believes could provide "a new approach to understanding the mind." Artificial intelligence and Chomsky's work in mathematical linguistics were steps in this direction. That these efforts produced only partial understandings can be seen, for example, in the fact that VCRs are so hard to program: Something gets lost in the translation from social science research on the way people use machines, to the "mathematically precise blueprints that the design engineer needs." Soft mathematics could help to solve such problems, Devlin argues. He also calls for a new vision of education that eliminates artificial boundaries between science, social science, and the humanities.

--- Allyn Jackson