Reflecting on Insights from a Pure Mathematician

It is ironic that after years of studying graduate-level mathematics, it was a piece of literature I read during my studies that had the most profound influence on me. Mind you, it was written by a mathematician, but that doesn’t matter.

G. H. Hardy was arguably one of the greatest pure mathematicians of all time. He is portrayed by Jeremy Irons in The Man Who Knew Infinity, a movie that depicts his relationship with the mathematical genius Ramanujan from India.

Hardy’s A Mathematician’s Apology was published in 1940. His poetic and philosophical prose draws me in. In Apology, Hardy poses two questions that lead to the justification of his chosen profession:

A man who sets out to justify his existence and his activities has to distinguish two different questions. The first is whether the work which he does is worth doing; and the second is why he does it, whatever its value may be.

Hardy reflects on his life as a mathematician and concludes one, his work is valuable and two, he is good at it. Hey, if he had been a better cricket player, he may have chosen to be a professional cricketer.

And when others question my work, I reflect on Hardy’s morsels. I have no doubt of the answer to the first question, and I’m pretty sure I suck at baseball.

A Real Hero

My young daughter has been fascinated with Terry Fox ever since she learned about him in junior kindergarten.

I used to read Terry Fox: A Story of Hope to her at bedtime, and every time I’d be crying by the final page. My daughter was drawn to the story and pictures, especially the Terry Fox statues depicted in the book.

Last week our family travelled to Ottawa and across from the Parliament Buildings stood a statue of Terry Fox. It was a special moment for my daughter and me. She got to stand beside her hero Terry Fox, and being next to her, I got to stand beside one of mine.

In a world where people look up to those like Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber, I’m proud that my daughter looks up to a young Canadian who embodied hope and courage: Terry Fox—a real hero.