This week’s selection is “In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World” by Ian Stewart.
In today’s world we take so much for granted. We’re surrounded by things that are incredibly complex but that complexity is hidden from view by equally sophisticated interfaces. And yet with all that sophistication we still make even more complex systems built from pieces we already have.
We’re a civilization built on the shoulders of previous innovations.
Many of those innovations were in fact mathematical, and almost without exception, the true benefits of mathematical discoveries were not realized until long after their appearance.
This 2012 book examines 17 of the most notable mathematical equations of history that have helped mold our civilization through their massive implications. There’s no 3D printing per-se in this book, but do know that your 3D printer largely exists only because these equation came into being over the course of centuries.
I’m sure you’re familiar with many of these equations. You’ll find Pythagoras’ Theorem, Schrödinger’s Equation, Fourier transforms, Newton’s Law and Maxwell’s Equations, among others. Some may not be as recognizable, such as the Black-Scholes Equation, or Euler’s Formula for Polyhedra, but all are strikingly important in their own way.
Stewart provides a standard template for explaining each equation, including “What does it tell us?”, “Why is that important?” and “What did it lead to?”, as well as a long narrative explaining the history behind the equation and where civilization benefited most. There are plenty of interesting details in each chapter, most of which you may not be aware of.
It’s not a long read at 300ish pages, and it can easily be stopped and started at any time due to the segmented nature of the material. But as you read the entire piece, you’ll gain a valuable perspective on how these — and many other undescribed equations — became the foundation upon which we all depend today.
Then you may appreciate not only the amazing things surrounding you, but also the work that continues to explore the universe to identify more equations and truths about our world.