STO Book Reviews

Mathematical Mystery Tour book cover A Mathematical Mystery Tour
Discovering the Truth and Beauty of the Cosmos
A. K. Dewdney

John Wiley & Sons
Paperback - 224 pages
5-1/2 x 8-1/2
ISBN: 0-47-140734-8
A.K. Dewdney was thinking about the idea of mathematical formulas governing the cosmos. He was wondering why the ancient mathematician Pythagoras believed that mathematics makes up reality if math formulas perfectly govern everything.

The timeless question: Is mathematics the very fabric of the cosmos, or does it exist only in the human mind?

Writing about his wonderment in this Mystery Tour, Dewdney searches through space and time for mathematical meaning in history. To go forth on this thought-provoking reading adventure, Dewdney takes readers on a theoretical world tour in which he uses a clutch of fictional tour guides at various ports of call to humanize what might be a rather intimidating subject.

Dewdney starts his fictional journey in:
  • the Temple of Apollo at Miletus -- the ancient home of Pythagoras and other deep thinkers -- where he meets the first of his guides, an historian he calls Dr. Petros Pygonopolis. Then the journey continues to

  • the southern desert of Jordan where Professor Jusuf al-Flayli of Cairo University offers insight into ancient Islamic astronomy; then to

  • the winding canals of Venice where university professor Maria Canzoni reveals the mysteries of atomic theory; and to

  • the medieval halls of Oxford, England, where mathematician Sir John Brainard explains the "engines of thought" in the form of Alan Turing's mind machines.
As might be imagined about such a fictionalized approach, Dewdney's writing is accessible. A Mathematical Mystery Tour is not difficult to read, although it attempts to clarify some very abstract ideas and answer some fundamental questions.

Dewdney has a sense of humor and his knowledge is thorough. This Ph.D. -- doing computer science at the University of Western Ontario -- has been author of several critically-acclaimed science and math books, including Yes, We Have No Neutrons, 200% of Nothing, The Armchair Universe, and The Planiverse: Computer Contact with a Two-Dimensional World.

Did humans make up mathematics, or did mathematics make up everything, including humans? Why do the cosmos - from the tiny world of atoms to the shape of the universe itself - seem governed by mathematical laws? Is our world is made of mathematics, as Pythagoras proposed? Or have the mathematicians made mathematics? Are the theorems and equations that describe the world around us discovered or created? Is mathematics the fabric of the cosmos or does it exist only in the human mind?

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