Alexandre V. Borovik

Shadows of the Truth:

Metamathematics of

Elementary Mathematics

Working Draft 0.822

November 23, 2012

American Mathematical Society

To Noah and Emily

Fig. 0.1. L’Evangelista Matteo e l ’Angelo. Gui d o Reni, 1630 –1640. Pina-

coteca Vaticana. Source: Wikipedia Commons. Pu blic domain.

Guido Reni was one of the ﬁrst artists in history of visual arts who

paid attention to psychology of children. Notice how the little angel counts

on h is ﬁngers the points he is sent to communicate to St. Matthew.

Preface

Toutes les grandes personnes ont d’abord été des enfants

(Mais peu d’entre elles s’en souviennent.)

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince.

This book is an attempt to look at mathematics from a new

and somewhat unusual point of view. I have started to systemat-

ically record and analyze from a mathematic al point of view vari-

ous difﬁculties experiencing by children in their early learnin g of

mathematics. I hope that my approach will eventually allow me

to gain a better understanding of how we—not only children, but

adults, too—do mathematics. This explains the title of the book:

metamathematics is mathematics applied to study of mathematics.

I chase shadows: I am trying to identify and clearly describe hid den

structures of elementary mathematics which may intrigue, puzzle,

and—like shadows in the night—sometimes scare an inquisitive

child.

The real life material in my research is limited to stories that

my fellow mathematicians have chosen to tell me ; they represent

tiny but personally signiﬁcant episodes from their childhood. I di-

rected my inquiries to mathematicians for an obvious reason: only

mathematicians po ssess an adequate language which allows them

to describe in some depths their experiences of learning mathemat-

ics. So far my approach is justiﬁed by the warm welcome it found

among my mathematician friends, and I am most gr ate ful to them

for their suppor t. For some reason (and the reason deserves a study

on its own) my colleagues know what I am talking about!

The book was born from a chance conversation with my col-

league Elizabeth Kimber. I analyze her story, in great detail, in

Chapter 5. Little Lizzie, aged 6, could easily solve “put a number in

the box” problems of the type

7 + = 12,

v

vi

by counting how many 1’s she had to add to 7 in order to get 12 but

struggled with

+ 6 = 11,

because she did not know where to start. Much worse, little Lizzie

was frustrated by the attitude of adults around her—they could not

comprehend her difﬁcu lty, which remained with he r for the rest of

her life.

When I heard that story, I instantly realized that I had had

similar experiences myself, and that I heard stories of challenge

and frustration f rom many my fellow mathematicians. I started to

ask around—and now offer to the reader a selection of responses

arranged around several mathematical themes.

A few caveats are due. The stories told in the book cannot be

independently corrobor ate d or authenticated—they are memor ies

that my colle agues have chosen to remember. I believe that the

stories are of serious interest for the deeper understanding of the

internal and hidden mechanisms of mathematical practice because

the memories told have deeply per sonal meaning for mathemati-

cians who told the stories to me. The nature of this deep emotional

bond between a mathematician and his or her ﬁrst mathematical

experiences remains a mystery—I simply take the existence of such

a bond for gr an ted and suggest that it be u sed as a key to the most

intimate layer of mathematical thinking.

This bo nd with the “former child” (or the “inner child”?) is best

described by Michael Gromov:

I have a few recollections, but they are not structural.

I remember my feeling of excitement upon hitting on some

mathematical ideas such as a straight line tangent to a curve and

representing inﬁnite velocity (I was about 5, watching freely mov-

ing thrown objects). Also at this age I was fascinated by the com-

plexity of the inside of a car wi th the hood lifted.

Later I had a similar feeling by imagining ﬁrst inﬁnite ordinal s

(I was about 9 trying to ﬁgure out if 1000 elephants are stronger

than 100 whales and how to be stronger than all of them in the

universe).

Also I recall many instances of acute feeling of frustration at

my stupidity of being unable to solve very simple problems at

school later on.

My personal evaluation of myself is that as a child till 8–9, I

was intellectually better off than a t 14. At 14–15 I became inter-

ested in math. It took me about 20 years to regain my 7 year old

child perceptiveness.

I repeat Michael Gromov’s words:

It took me about 20 years to regain my 7 year old child perceptive-

ness.

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ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

vii

I am conﬁdent that this sentiment is shared by many my math-

ematician colleagues. This is why I concentrate on the childhood

of mathematicians, and this is why I expect that my notes will be

useful to specialists in mathematical education and in psychology

of education. But I wish to make it absolutely clear: I am not mak-

ing any recommendations on mathematics teaching. Moreover, I

emphasize that the primary aim of my project is to understand the

nature of mainstream “research” mathematics.

The emphasis on children’s experiences makes my programme

akin to linguistic and cognitive science. However, when a linguist

studies formation of speech in a child, he studies language, not the

structure of linguistics as a scientiﬁc discipline. When I propose to

study the formation of mathematical concepts in a child, I wish to

get insights into the interplay o f mathematical structures in math-

ematics. Mathematics has an astonishing power of reﬂection, and a

self-referential study of mathematics by mathematical means plays

an inc reasingly important role within mathematical culture. I sim-

ply suggest to take a step further (or a step aside, or a step back in

life) and to take a look back in time, at one’s childhood years.

A philosophically inclined reader will immediately see a paral-

lel with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: children in my boo k see shad-

ows of the Truth and sometimes ﬁnd themselves in a psychological

trap becau se their teachers and other adults around them see nei-

ther Truth, nor its shadows. But I am not doing philosophy; I am

a mathematician and I stick to a concise mathematical reconstruc-

tion of what the child had actually seen.

My book is also an attempt to trigger the chain of memories in

my readers: even the most minute recollection of difﬁculties and

paradoxes of their early mathematical experiences is most wel-

come. Please write to me at

borovik@manchester.ac.uk.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. At the end of each chapter I place some bibli-

ographic references. Here are some (very different) books most

closely related to themes touched on in this introduction: Aharoni

[610], Carruthers and Worthington [642, 644], Freudenthal [667],

Gromov [30], and Krutetskii [826].

Alexandre Borovik

Didsbury

16 July 2011

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ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

Acknowledgements

Fig. 0.2. Guido Reni. A fragment of Puriﬁcation of the Virgin, c. 1635–

1640. Musée du Louvre. Source: Wikipedia Commons. Public domain.

I am grateful to my correspondents

Ron Aharoni, JA, Natasha Alechina, Tuna Altınel, RA, Nicola Ar-

cozzi, Pierre Arnoux, Autodidact, Bernha rd Baumgartner, Frances

Bell, SB, Mikhail Belolipetsky, AB, Alexander Bogomolny, RB,

Anna Borovik (my wife, actually), Lawrence Braden, Michael Breen,

TB, BB, Dmitri Burago, L B, CB, LC, David Cariolaro, SC, E mily

Cliff, Alex Cook, BC, V

ˇ

C, Jonathan Crabtree, Iain Currie, RTC,

ix

x

PD, Ya

˘

gmur Denizhan, Antonio Jose Di Scala, SD, DD, Ted Eisen-

berg, Theresia Eisenkölbl, RE, ¸SUE, David Epstein, Gwen Fisher,

Ritchie Flick, Jo French; Michael N. Fried, Swiatoslaw G., IG,

Herbert Gangl, Solomon Garfunkel, Dan Garry, Olivier Gerard,

John Gibbon, Anthony David Gilbert, Jakub Gismatullin, VG,

Alex Grad, IGG, Rostislav Grigorchuk, Michael Gromov, IH, Leo

Harrington, EH, Robin Harte, Toby Howard, RH, Jens Høyrup,

Alan Hutchinson, BH, David Jefferies, Mikhail Katz, Tanya Kho-

vanova, Hovik Khudaverdyan, Elizabeth Kimber, EMK, Jonathan

Kirby, SK, Ekaterina Komendan tskaya, Ul rich Kortenkamp, Charles

Leedham-Green, AL, EL, RL, DMK, JM, Victor Maltcev, MM,

Archie McKerrell, Jonathan McLaughlin, Alexey Muranov, Azadeh

Neman, Ali Nesin, John W. Neuberger, Joachim N eubüser, An -

thony O’Farrell, Alexander Ols hansky one man and a dog, Teresa

Patten, Karen Petrie, NP, Eckhard Pﬂügel, R ichard Porter, Hillary

Povey MP, Alison Price, Mihai Putinar, VR, Roy Stewart Roberts,

FR, PR, AS, John Shackell, Simon J. Shepherd, GCS, VS, Christo-

pher Stephenson, Jerry Swan, Johan Swanl jung, BS, Tim Swift,

RT, Günter Törner, Vadim Tropashko, Viktor Verbovskiy, RW, PW,

JW, RW, MW, Jürgen Wolfart, CW, Maria Zaturska, WZ and Logan

Zoellner

for sh aring with me their childhood memories and/or their ed-

ucational a nd pedagogical experiences;

to parents of DW for allowing me to write about the boy;

and to my colleagues and friends for contributing their expertise

on history of arithmetic and history of inﬁnitesimal s, French and

Turkish languages, artiﬁcial intelligence, turbulence, dimensional

analysis, subtraction, cohomology, p-adic integers, programming,

pedagogy — in effect, on everything — and for sharing with me

their blog posts, papers, photographs, pictures, problems, proofs,

translations:

Santo D’Agostino, Paul Andrews, John Baez, John Baldwin, Oleg

Belegradek, Marc Bezem, Adrien Deloro, Ya

˘

gmur Denizhan , Muriel

Fraser, Michael N. Fried, Alexander Givental, AH, Mitchell Har-

ris, Albrecht Heeffer, Roger Howe, Jens Høyrup, Jodie Hunter

Mikael Johansson, Jean-Michel Kantor, H. Turgay Kaptanoglu,

Serguei Karakozov, Mikhail Katz, Alexander Kheyﬁts Hovik Khu-

daverdyan, Eren Mehmet Kıral, David H. Kirshner, Semen Sam-

sonovich Kutateladze, Vishal Lama, Joseph Lauri, Michael Livshits,

Dennis Lomas, Dan MacKinnon, John Mason, Gábor Megyesi,

Javier Moreno, Ali Nesin , Sevan Ni¸sanyan, Windell H. Oskay,

David Pierce, Donald A. Preece, Thomas Riepe, Jane-Lola Seban,

Ashna Sen, Alexander Shen, Aaron Sloman, Kevin Souza, Chris

Stephenson, Vadim Tropashko, Sergei Utyuzhnikov, Roy Wagner,

Thomas Ward, David Wells, and Dean Wyles;

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ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

xi

and to Tony Gardiner, Yordanka Gorcheva, Dan Garry, Olivier

Gerard, Stephen Gould, Mikhail Katz, Michael Livshits, Alison

Pease and Frederick Ross for sending me detailed comments on,

and corrections to, the on-line version of the book and /or associ-

ated papers.

This text would not appear had I not received a kind invitation

to give a talk at “Is Mathematics Spec ial” conference in Vienna

in May 2008, and without an invitation from A li Nesin to give a

lecture course “Elementary mathematics from the point of view of

“higher” mathematics” at the Nesin Mathematics Village in ¸Sir-

ince, Turkey, in July 2008 and in August 2009. Section 10.1 was

ﬁrst published in a [106] in the proceedings volume o f the Vienna

conference edited by Benedikt Löwe and Thomas Müller. Parts of

the text ﬁ rst appeared in Matematik Dünyası, a popular mathe-

matical journal edited by Ali Nesin [627].

My work on this book was partially suppo r ted by a g rant from

the John Templeton Foundation, a charitable institution which de-

scribes itself as a

“philanthropic catalyst for discovery in areas engaging in life’s

biggest questions.”

Howeve r, the opinions expressed in the book are those of the au-

thor and do not necessarily reﬂect the views of the John Te mpleton

Foundation.

Finally, my thanks go to the blogging community—I have picked

in the blogosphere some ideas and quite a number of references—

especially to the late Dima Fon-Der-Flaass and to my old friend

who prefers to be known only as O wl.

Alexandre Borovik

Didsbury

23 Novem ber 2012

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ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

Contents

Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . v

Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ix

1 Dividing Apples between People . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

1.1 Sharing and dispensing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

1.2 Digression into Turkish grammar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

1.3 Dividing apples by apples: a correct answer . . . . . . . 5

1.4 What are the numbers children are working with? . 6

1.5 The lunch bag arithmetic, or addition of

heterogeneous quantities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

1.6 Duality and pairing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

1.7 Adding fruits, or the augmentation homomorphism 10

1.8 Dimensions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

2 Pedagogical Intermis sion: Human Languages . . . . . . . 13

3 Units of measurement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19

3.1 Fantasy units of measurement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19

3.2 Discussion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21

3.3 History . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23

4 History of Dimensional Analysis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27

4.1 Galileo Galilei . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28

4.2 Froude’s Law of Steamship Comparisons . . . . . . . . . . 30

4.2.1 Difﬁculty of making physical models . . . . . . . . 30

4.2.2 Deduction of Froude’s Law . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31

4.3 Kolmogorov’s “5/3” Law . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32

4.3.1 Turbulent ﬂows: basic setup . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32

4.3.2 Subtler analysis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34

4.3.3 Discussion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35

4.4 Dimension of Lagrange multipliers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36

4.5 Length and area . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38

xiii

xiv Contents

5 Adding One by One . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45

5.1 Adding one by one . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45

5.2 Dedekind-Peano axioms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47

5.3 A brief digression: is 1 a number? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48

5.4 How much mathematics can a child see at the

level of basic counting? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49

5.5 Properties of addition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52

5.5.1 Associativity of addition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53

5.5.2 Commutativity of addition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54

5.6 Dark clouds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55

5.7 Induction and recursion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57

5.8 Digression into inﬁnite descent . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59

5.9 Landau’s proof of the existence of add ition . . . . . . . . 61

6 What is a Minus Sign Anyway? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65

6.1 Fuzziness of the rules . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65

6.2 A formal treatment of subtraction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67

6.3 A formal treatment of negative numbers . . . . . . . . . . 68

6.4 Testimonies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71

6.5 Multivalued groups . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73

7 Counting Sheep . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77

7.1 Numbers in computer science . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77

7.2 Counting sheep . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79

7.3 Abstract nonsense . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81

7.3.1 Existence and uniqueness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81

7.3.2 Unary algebras . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81

7.3.3 Proofs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82

7.4 Induction on systems other than N . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82

7.5 Categories. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84

7.6 Digression:

Natural numbers in Ancient Greece . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85

8 Fractions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87

8.1 Fractions as “named” numbers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87

8.2 Inductive limit . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89

8.3 Field of fractions of an integral domain . . . . . . . . . . . 92

8.4 Back to commutativity of m ultiplication. . . . . . . . . . . 93

9 Pedagogical Intermis sion:

Didactic Transformation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97

9.1 Didactic transformation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97

9.2 Continuity, limit, derivatives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100

9.3 Continuity, limit, derivatives:

the Zoo of alternative approaches . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101

9.4 Some practical issues. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105

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Contents xv

10 Carrying: Cinderella of Arithmetic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109

10.1 Palind romic decimals and palindromic polynomials 109

10.2 DW: a discussion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113

10.3 Decimals and polynomials: an epiphany . . . . . . . . . . . 114

10.4 Carrying: Cinderella of arithmetic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115

10.4.1 Cohomology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115

10.4.2 A few formal deﬁnitions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117

10.4.3 Limits and series . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118

10.4.4 Euler’s sum . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 119

10.5 Unary number system . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120

11 Pedagogical Intermis sion:

Nomination and Deﬁnition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125

11.1 Names . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125

11.2 Nomination . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128

12 The Towers of Hanoi and Binary Trees . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133

13 Mathematics of Finger-Pointing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135

13.1 John Baez: a taste of lambda calculus . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135

13.2 Here it is . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137

13.3 A dialogue with Peter McBride . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139

14 Numbers and Functions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141

14.1 Chinese Remainder Theorem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141

14.1.1 History . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141

14.1.2 Simultaneous Congruences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 142

14.1.3 Algorithm . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 143

14.1.4 Example . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 144

14.2 The Lagrange Interpolation Formula . . . . . . . . . . . . . 144

14.3 Numbers as functions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 146

15 Graph Paper and the Arithmetic of Complex

Numbers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 149

15.1 Graph paper . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 149

15.2 Pizza, logarithms and graph paper . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151

15.3 Multiplication of squares . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153

15.4 Pythagorean triples . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 155

16 Uniqueness of Factorization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159

16.1 Uniqueness of factorization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159

16.2 Dialog with AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 161

16.3 Generalizations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 162

16.4 The Fermat Theorem for polynomials . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163

17 Pedagogical Intermis sion: Factorization . . . . . . . . . . . . 165

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xvi Contents

18 Being in Control . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 167

18.1 Leo Harrington: Who is in control? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 167

18.2 The quest for truth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171

18.3 The quest for logic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 172

18.4 The quest for understanding . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 172

18.5 The quest for power . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 176

18.6 The quest for rigour . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 177

18.7 Suspicion of easy options . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 182

18.8 “Everything had to be proven”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 185

18.9 Raw emotions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 186

18.10 David Epstein: Give students problems that

interest them . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 190

18.11 Autodidact . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 192

18.12 Blocking it out . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 193

19 Controlling Inﬁnity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 195

19.1 Fear of inﬁnity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 195

19.2 Counting on and on . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 196

19.3 Controlling inﬁnity. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 201

19.4 Edge of an abyss . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205

20 Pattern Hunting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 209

21 Visual Thinking vs Formal Logical Thinking . . . . . . . . 213

21.1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 213

21.2 EH: Visualisation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 216

21.3 Lego . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 217

22 Telling Left from Right . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 221

22.1 Why does the mirror change left and right but

does not change up and down? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 221

22.2 Pons Asinorum . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 223

22.3 TB . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 224

22.4 Maria Zaturska . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 225

22.5 MP . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 226

22.6 Digression into ethnography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 226

22.7 BB. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 228

22.8 PD. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 228

22.9 Digression into Estonian language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 230

22.10 Standing arches, hanging chains . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 230

22.11 Orientation of surfaces . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 231

References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 233

Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 281

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1

Dividing Apples between People

It is important not to separate mathematics from life.

You can explain fractions even to he avy drinkers.

If you ask them, ‘Which is larger, 2/3 or 3/5?’

it is likely they will not know. But if you ask,

‘Which is better, two bottles of vodka for three people,

or three bottles of vodka for ﬁve people?’

they will answer you immediately.

They will say two for three, of course.

Israel Gelfand

1.1 Sharing and dispensing

I take the liberty to tell a story from my own life

1

; I believe it is

relevant for the principal theme of this book.

When, as a child, I was told by my teacher that I had to be

careful with “named” numbers and not to add apples and people,

I remember asking her why in that case we can divide apples by

people:

10 app les : 5 people = 2 apples. (1.1)

Even worse: when we distribute 10 apples giving 2 apples to a per-

son, we have

10 app les : 2 apples = 5 people (1.2)

Where do “people” on the right hand side of the equation come

from? Why do “people” appear and not, say, “kids”? There were no

“people” on the left hand side of the operation! How do numbers on

the left hand side know the name of the number on the rig ht hand

side?

1

Call me AVB; I am Russian, male, have a PhD in Mathematics, teach

mathematics in a British university.

1

2 1 Dividing Apples between People

Fig. 1.1. The First Law of Arithmetic: you do not add fruit and people.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Autumn. 1573. Musée du Louvre, Paris. Source:

Wikipedia Commons. Public domain.

There were much deeper reasons for my discomfor t. I had no

bad feelings about dividing 10 apples among 5 people, but I some-

how felt that the problem of deciding how many people would get

apples if each was give n 2 apples from the total of 10, was c om-

pletely different. I tried to visualize the problem as an orderly dis-

tribution of apples to a queue of people, two apples to each person.

The result was deeply disturbing: in horror I saw an endless line

of poor wretches, each stretching out his hand, begging for his two

apples. (I discuss these my childhood fears in more detail in Sec-

tion 19.1.)

Indeed , my childhood e xperience is conﬁrmed by experimental

studies, see Bryant and Squire [264]. To emphasize the difference

between the two operations, I started to call operation (1.1) sharing

and (1.2) dispensing or distribution. I discovere d later that these

operation w ere called partition and quotition in [623]. But even

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1.2 Digression into Turkish grammar 3

sharing is not easy and may lead to mathematical discoveries! If

you do not believe, read a testimony from David Cariolaro:

2

When I was 3 years old I was trying to divide evenly the LEGO

pieces th at I had at that time with my brother— and fa iled in that

respect and burst in tears. When I told my Mum that I could not

divide evenly the pieces she recognized th at I indeed discovered

odd numbers, and that was my ﬁrst mathematical discovery.

Finally, notice that there are similar special cases of subtrac-

tion; it is worth quoting from Romulo Lins [714]:

I once had a very interesting conversation with Alan Bell, at the

time when he was my P h. D. supervisor. He argued that when a

store-clerk gives you the right change by ‘adding up’ he is actually

doing a subtraction. For instance, I h ave to pay $35 and give a

$100 bill to the clerk. He gives me a $5 bi ll and says ‘forty’, gives

me a $10 bill and says ‘ﬁfty’, and ﬁnally gives me a $50 bill and

says ‘a hundred’. I argued that this an d doing a subtraction were

quite different thin gs, as, unless the clerk wants to pay attention

to how much he returned, he will not know, in the end, the change

given (try this out in shops without those modern machines!). And

how can we call ‘subtraction’ an operation that in the end leaves

us without knowing ‘the result of the subtraction’? Shouldn’t we

better call that a ‘change giving’ operation? The same argument

applies to ‘sharing’ and ‘division’.

1.2 Digression into Turkish grammar

A lo gical d ifference betwee n the operations of sharing and dispens-

ing is reﬂected in the grammar of the Turkish language by the pres-

ence of a special form of numerals, distributive numerals.

What follows was told to me by David Pierce, Eren Mehmet

Kıral and Sevan Ni¸sanyan.

First David Pierce:

Turkish h as several systems of numerals, all based on the cardi-

nals; a s well as a few numerical peculiarities.

The cardinals begin:

bir, iki, üç, dört, be¸s, altı, . . .(one, two, three, . . . )

These answer the question

Kaç? (How many?)

The ordinals take the sufﬁx -inci, adjusted for vowel harmony:

2

DC is male, Italian, has a PhD in mathematics, holds a research po-

sition. In this epi sode, the language of communication was his mother

tongue, Italian.

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4 1 Dividing Apples between People

birinci, ikinci, üçüncü, dördüncü, be¸sinci, altıncı, .

(ﬁrst, second, third, . . .)

These answer the question

Kaçıncı?

The distributi ves take the sufﬁx -(¸s)er:

birer, iki¸ser, üçr, . . .

Used singly, these mean “one each, two each” and so on, a s in “I

want two fruits from each of these baskets”; they answer the ques-

tion

Kaçar?

Then Eren Mehmet Kıral continues:

When somebody is distributing some goods s/he might say

Be¸ser be¸ser alın. (Each one of you take ﬁve) or

˙

I ki¸ser elma alın. (Take two apples each)

I do not know if it is a grammatical rule (or if it is important)

but when the name of the object being distributed is not mentioned

then the distributive numeral is repeated as in the ﬁrst example.

The numeral may also be used in a non distributive problem. If

somebody is asking students (or soldiers) to make rows consisting

of 7 people each then s/ he might say

Yedi¸ser yedi¸ser dizilin. (Get into rows of seven)

In that context, a story told to me by one of my colleagues, ¸SUE

3

is very interesting. His experience of arithmetic in his (Turkish) el-

ementary school, when he was about 8 or 9 years old, had a peculiar

trouble spot: he could factorize numbers up to 100 before he learnt

the times table, so he could instantly say that 42 factors as 6×7, but

if asked, on a d ifferent occasion, what is 6 ×7, h e could not answer.

Also, he could not accept the con cept of division with remainder: if

a teacher asked him how many 3s go into 19 (expecting an answer:

6, and 1 is left ov er), little ¸SUE was very uncomfortable—he knew

that 3 did not go into 19. ¸SUE added:

But I did not pay attention to 19 being prime. I h ad the same prob-

lem when I was asked how many 3s go into 1 6. It is th e same

thing: no 3s go in 16. Simply because 3 is not a factor of 16. This is

perhaps because of distributive numerals I somehow built up an

intuition of factorizing, but perhaps for the same reason (because

of the intuition that dis tributive gave) I could not understand di-

vision with remainder.

As we can see, ¸SUE does not dismiss the suggestion that dis-

tributive numer als of his mother tongue could have made it easier

for him to form concept of divisibility and pr im e numbers (although

he did not know the term “prime numbe r”) before he learned mul-

tiplication.

3

¸SUE is Turkish, male, recent mathematics graduate.

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1.3 Dividi ng apples by apples: a correct answer 5

¸SUE only made his peace with remainder s during his ﬁrst year

at university, when the process of division with remainde r was in-

troduced as a formal technique. He is not alone in waiting years be-

fore ﬁnally being told that division with re mainder is not a binary

operation because it produces two outputs, n ot one, as a binary op-

eration should: partial quotient and remainder. Indeed here is a

story from Dan Garry

4

:

When I was seven, I had to take a week off because I was sick. We

were s tudying division at the time, and during the week I missed,

the concept of remainders was covered. I asked the teacher what a

“remainder” was and she was rather dismissive, saying “It’s what’s

left over when you divide”. This made absolutely no sense to me;

I remember thinking “7 divided by 3 is 2, what exactly is there

to be left over?”. Looking back on it, it occurs to me that I was

thinking of division as a binary operation: 7 divided by 3 is exactly

2. As silly as it might sound, I never really ﬁgured out the rela-

tion between “division” and “remainders” of integers until I went

to a lecture on the division algorithm in my ﬁrst year of university,

which conveniently took place a few hours after a lecture in com-

puter science about how the JAVA programming language handles

integer division.

1.3 Divi ding apples by apples: a correct answer

But let us return to comparing problems (1.1) and (1.2). In the ﬁrst

problem you have a ﬁx ed data set: 10 apples and 5 people, and you

can easily visualize giving apples to the people, in rounds, o ne ap-

ple to a person at a time, until no apples were left. But, as I have

already mentioned, an attempt to visualize the second p roblem in

a similar way, as an orderly distribution of apples to a queue of

people, two apples to each person, necessitates dealing with a po-

tentially unlimited number of recipients.

I asked my teacher for help, but did not get a satisfactory an-

swer. Only much later did I realize that the co r rect naming of the

numbers should be

10 app les : 5 people = 2

apples

people

, 10 app les : 2

apples

people

= 5 people.

(1.3)

I was not alone in my discomfort with “named nu mbers” and

“units”. Here is a testimony from John Gibbon

5

:

4

DG is male, 21 years old, was born and raised in Englan d . He is a ﬁn al

year undergraduate s tudying Computer Science and Mathematics in a

British university.

5

JDG is male, British, a professor of applied mathematics.

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6 1 Dividing Apples between People

Fig. 1. 2 . Paul Cézanne. Still Life with Basket of Apples. 1890–94. The Art

Institute of Chicago. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

At the age of 6 years I was asked the question “How many oranges

make 5?”. I recall that I refused to answer. This indicated to her

that I was unintelligent, which had been her worry. Later in life

I realized why my 6 year-old mind had felt th ere was something

wrong with the question. The issue was one of units: “How many

oranges make 5 what?” was the problem turning round in my 6

year-old mind. On the one hand one cannot change oranges into

something else so I rejected “How many oranges make 5 apples?”

On the other hand, if the answer was “How many oranges make 5

oranges?” then we had a tautology. I did not know what a tauto-

logical argument was but I knew I felt uncomfortable with it.

Therefore let us look into equations (1.3) with some attention.

1.4 What ar e the numbers children are working

with?

It is a commonplace wisdom that the development of mathemati-

cal skills in a student goes alon gside the gradual expansion of the

realm of numbers with which he or she works, from natural num-

bers to integers, then to rational, real, complex numbers:

N ⊂ Z ⊂ Q ⊂ R ⊂ C.

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ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

1.4 What are the numbers children are working with? 7

What is missing from this natural hierarchy is that already at

the level of elementary school arithmetic children are working in

a much more sophisticated structure, a graded ring

Q[x

1

, x

−1

1

, . . . , x

n

, x

−1

n

].

of Laurent polynomials

6

in n variables over Q, where symbols

x

1

, . . . , x

n

stand for the names of objects involved in the calculation: apples,

persons, etc. This explains why educational psychologists conﬁ-

dently claim that the operations (1.1) and (1.2) on Page 1 have little

in common [264]—indeed, operation (1.2) involves an ope r and “ap-

ple/people” of a much more complex nature than basic “apples” and

“people” in operation (1.1): “apple/people” could appear only as a

result of some previous division.

This difﬁculty was identiﬁed already by François Viéte who in

1591 wrote in his Introduction to the Analytic Art [237] that

If one magnitude is divided by another, [the quotient] is heteroge-

neous to the former . . . Mu ch of the fogginess and obscurity of the

old analysts is due to their not paying attention to these [rules].

The presence of grading can be felt by some children. This is

what is told to me by IG

7

:

My story hasn’t ﬁnished yet, as the problem is still very much with

me now, as it was when I was 7. The bane of my existence is the

addition and multiplication of integers. Take, for example, 75. The

teacher would have us believe that 75 as 5 × 5 × 3, a s 15 × 5 etc.

all were ’the same’ 75. For the life of me I can’t believe it, and no

proof convinces me. To me, 5×5×3 is somehow 3 dimensional, and

75 is something like volume. Then, when adding numbers, I get a

moment of panic as if I am trying add things of different dimension

and have no way of obtainin g the correct dimensions just from the

volume, and so the whole thing can’t possibly be right.

The only progress I made over many years is that I learned

to stuff this treacherous thought away whenever it rears its ugly

head.

Even so, perhaps there is no need to te ach Laurent polynomials

to kids (or even to teachers); but we n eed some simple c ommon lan-

guage that addresses the subtleties without adding unnecessary

6

Laurent polynomials and Laurent series are named after French mili-

tary engineer Pierre Alphonse Laurent (1813–1854) who was the ﬁrst

to introduce them. Another his major a chievement was construction of

the port of Le Havre.

7

IG is femal e, a PhD student in a leading British university. She went to

school in Russia and was educated in Russian, her mother tongue.

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ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

8 1 Dividing Apples between People

sophistication. This is w hy I devote Chapters 3 and 4 to discus-

sion of dimensional analysis, that is, the use of “named” num bers

in physics. To my taste, it provides a number of interesting elemen-

tary examples that may be used if not at school but then at least in

teachers’ training.

This need for proper language for elementary school arithmetic

is emphasized by Ron Aharoni [609]:

Beside the four classi c operations there i s a ﬁ f th one, more basic

and important: that of forming a unit. Taking a part of the world

and declaring it to be the “whole”. This operation is at the base of

much of the mathematics of primary school. First of all, in count-

ing: when you have another such unit you say you have “two”, and

so on. The operation of multiplication is based on taking a set,

declaring that this is the unit, and repeating it. The concept of a

fraction starts from having a whole, from which parts are taken.

At the “adult” le vel, “forming a unit” may be viewed as setting

up an appropriate Laurent polynomial ring as an ambient struc-

ture for a particular arithmetic problem. Later we shall see that,

once we set up a structure, it inevitably comes into interaction with

other structures, thus leading to some (very elementary and there-

fore very important) category theory coming into play (see Chap-

ter 7).

1.5 The lunch bag arithmetic, or addition of

heterogeneous quantities

Usually, only Laurent monomials are interpreted as having physi-

cal (or real life) meaning. But the addition of he terogeneous quan-

tities still makes sense and is done componentwise: if you have

a lunch bag with (2 apples + 1 orange), and another bag, with

(1 apple + 1 orange), together they make

(2 apples +1 orange)+(1 apple +1 orange) = (3 apples +2 oranges).

Notice that the “lunch bag” metaphor gives a very intuitive and

straightforward approach to vectors: a lunch bag is a vector (at

least this is how vectors are used in econometrics and mathem ati-

cal economics).

1.6 Duality and pairing

The “lunch bag” approach to vectors allows a natural introduc-

tion of duality and tensors: the total cost of a purchase of amou nts

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ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

1.6 Duality and pairing 9

g

1

, g

2

, g

3

of some goods at prices p

1

, p

2

, p

3

is a “scalar product”-type

8

expression

g

i

p

i

.

We see that the quantities g

i

and p

i

could be of completely different

nature. In physics, as a rule, the dot produ ct involves heteroge-

neous magnitudes. In introductory physics courses, the do t product

usually makes its ﬁrst appearance on the scen e as work done by

moving an objec t, which is the dot product of the force applied and

the displacement of the object.

The standard treatment of scalar (dot) product of vectors in un-

dergraduate linear algebra usually conceals the fact that dot prod-

uct is a manifestation of duality or pairing of vector spaces, thu s

creating imme nse difﬁculties in the subsequent study of tensor al-

gebra. As the following testimony from CB

9

shows, the boredom

and confusion start even earlier:

I remember the very ﬁrst conceptual difﬁculty I ever had: that was

the sca lar product of vectors. I could n ot ﬁgure why an operation

involving two vectors should yield a plain number, and my teach-

ers could not explain what that number meant in relation to the

two vectors. As a result I ha ted scalar products as all we did with

them was a meaningless if easy algebraic manipulation.

Indeed scalar (or dot) produc t as it appears in physics is a pair-

ing of two vector spaces U and V of different nature; assuming that

we are working over the real num bers R, pairing is a map

U × V → R

(u, v) → u ·v

which is bilinear, that is,

(au

1

+ bu

2

) ·v = au

1

· v + bu

2

· v

and similarly

u · (av

1

+ bv

2

) = au ·v

1

+ bu ·v

2

,

in both cases for all a, b ∈ R and all vectors u, u

i

∈ U and v, v

i

∈ V .

If it is possible to ignore physical (or ﬁnancial) meanings of the

vector spaces U and V , then the two spaces become lo gically undis-

tinguishable. Paradoxically, this provides another source of difﬁ-

culty for those students who are sensitive to formal logical aspects

of mathematical concepts.

8

Scalar product is also cal led dot product or inner product.

9

CB is female, holds a PhD, works a s an editorial director in a math-

ematics publishing house. Her mother tongue is French, but she was

educated in English. The epi sode described happened at age 12.

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ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

Shadows of the Truth:

Metamathematics of

Elementary Mathematics

Working Draft 0.822

November 23, 2012

American Mathematical Society

To Noah and Emily

Fig. 0.1. L’Evangelista Matteo e l ’Angelo. Gui d o Reni, 1630 –1640. Pina-

coteca Vaticana. Source: Wikipedia Commons. Pu blic domain.

Guido Reni was one of the ﬁrst artists in history of visual arts who

paid attention to psychology of children. Notice how the little angel counts

on h is ﬁngers the points he is sent to communicate to St. Matthew.

Preface

Toutes les grandes personnes ont d’abord été des enfants

(Mais peu d’entre elles s’en souviennent.)

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince.

This book is an attempt to look at mathematics from a new

and somewhat unusual point of view. I have started to systemat-

ically record and analyze from a mathematic al point of view vari-

ous difﬁculties experiencing by children in their early learnin g of

mathematics. I hope that my approach will eventually allow me

to gain a better understanding of how we—not only children, but

adults, too—do mathematics. This explains the title of the book:

metamathematics is mathematics applied to study of mathematics.

I chase shadows: I am trying to identify and clearly describe hid den

structures of elementary mathematics which may intrigue, puzzle,

and—like shadows in the night—sometimes scare an inquisitive

child.

The real life material in my research is limited to stories that

my fellow mathematicians have chosen to tell me ; they represent

tiny but personally signiﬁcant episodes from their childhood. I di-

rected my inquiries to mathematicians for an obvious reason: only

mathematicians po ssess an adequate language which allows them

to describe in some depths their experiences of learning mathemat-

ics. So far my approach is justiﬁed by the warm welcome it found

among my mathematician friends, and I am most gr ate ful to them

for their suppor t. For some reason (and the reason deserves a study

on its own) my colleagues know what I am talking about!

The book was born from a chance conversation with my col-

league Elizabeth Kimber. I analyze her story, in great detail, in

Chapter 5. Little Lizzie, aged 6, could easily solve “put a number in

the box” problems of the type

7 + = 12,

v

vi

by counting how many 1’s she had to add to 7 in order to get 12 but

struggled with

+ 6 = 11,

because she did not know where to start. Much worse, little Lizzie

was frustrated by the attitude of adults around her—they could not

comprehend her difﬁcu lty, which remained with he r for the rest of

her life.

When I heard that story, I instantly realized that I had had

similar experiences myself, and that I heard stories of challenge

and frustration f rom many my fellow mathematicians. I started to

ask around—and now offer to the reader a selection of responses

arranged around several mathematical themes.

A few caveats are due. The stories told in the book cannot be

independently corrobor ate d or authenticated—they are memor ies

that my colle agues have chosen to remember. I believe that the

stories are of serious interest for the deeper understanding of the

internal and hidden mechanisms of mathematical practice because

the memories told have deeply per sonal meaning for mathemati-

cians who told the stories to me. The nature of this deep emotional

bond between a mathematician and his or her ﬁrst mathematical

experiences remains a mystery—I simply take the existence of such

a bond for gr an ted and suggest that it be u sed as a key to the most

intimate layer of mathematical thinking.

This bo nd with the “former child” (or the “inner child”?) is best

described by Michael Gromov:

I have a few recollections, but they are not structural.

I remember my feeling of excitement upon hitting on some

mathematical ideas such as a straight line tangent to a curve and

representing inﬁnite velocity (I was about 5, watching freely mov-

ing thrown objects). Also at this age I was fascinated by the com-

plexity of the inside of a car wi th the hood lifted.

Later I had a similar feeling by imagining ﬁrst inﬁnite ordinal s

(I was about 9 trying to ﬁgure out if 1000 elephants are stronger

than 100 whales and how to be stronger than all of them in the

universe).

Also I recall many instances of acute feeling of frustration at

my stupidity of being unable to solve very simple problems at

school later on.

My personal evaluation of myself is that as a child till 8–9, I

was intellectually better off than a t 14. At 14–15 I became inter-

ested in math. It took me about 20 years to regain my 7 year old

child perceptiveness.

I repeat Michael Gromov’s words:

It took me about 20 years to regain my 7 year old child perceptive-

ness.

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ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

vii

I am conﬁdent that this sentiment is shared by many my math-

ematician colleagues. This is why I concentrate on the childhood

of mathematicians, and this is why I expect that my notes will be

useful to specialists in mathematical education and in psychology

of education. But I wish to make it absolutely clear: I am not mak-

ing any recommendations on mathematics teaching. Moreover, I

emphasize that the primary aim of my project is to understand the

nature of mainstream “research” mathematics.

The emphasis on children’s experiences makes my programme

akin to linguistic and cognitive science. However, when a linguist

studies formation of speech in a child, he studies language, not the

structure of linguistics as a scientiﬁc discipline. When I propose to

study the formation of mathematical concepts in a child, I wish to

get insights into the interplay o f mathematical structures in math-

ematics. Mathematics has an astonishing power of reﬂection, and a

self-referential study of mathematics by mathematical means plays

an inc reasingly important role within mathematical culture. I sim-

ply suggest to take a step further (or a step aside, or a step back in

life) and to take a look back in time, at one’s childhood years.

A philosophically inclined reader will immediately see a paral-

lel with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: children in my boo k see shad-

ows of the Truth and sometimes ﬁnd themselves in a psychological

trap becau se their teachers and other adults around them see nei-

ther Truth, nor its shadows. But I am not doing philosophy; I am

a mathematician and I stick to a concise mathematical reconstruc-

tion of what the child had actually seen.

My book is also an attempt to trigger the chain of memories in

my readers: even the most minute recollection of difﬁculties and

paradoxes of their early mathematical experiences is most wel-

come. Please write to me at

borovik@manchester.ac.uk.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. At the end of each chapter I place some bibli-

ographic references. Here are some (very different) books most

closely related to themes touched on in this introduction: Aharoni

[610], Carruthers and Worthington [642, 644], Freudenthal [667],

Gromov [30], and Krutetskii [826].

Alexandre Borovik

Didsbury

16 July 2011

SHADOWS OF THE TRUTH VER. 0.822 23-NOV-2012/7:23

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ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

Acknowledgements

Fig. 0.2. Guido Reni. A fragment of Puriﬁcation of the Virgin, c. 1635–

1640. Musée du Louvre. Source: Wikipedia Commons. Public domain.

I am grateful to my correspondents

Ron Aharoni, JA, Natasha Alechina, Tuna Altınel, RA, Nicola Ar-

cozzi, Pierre Arnoux, Autodidact, Bernha rd Baumgartner, Frances

Bell, SB, Mikhail Belolipetsky, AB, Alexander Bogomolny, RB,

Anna Borovik (my wife, actually), Lawrence Braden, Michael Breen,

TB, BB, Dmitri Burago, L B, CB, LC, David Cariolaro, SC, E mily

Cliff, Alex Cook, BC, V

ˇ

C, Jonathan Crabtree, Iain Currie, RTC,

ix

x

PD, Ya

˘

gmur Denizhan, Antonio Jose Di Scala, SD, DD, Ted Eisen-

berg, Theresia Eisenkölbl, RE, ¸SUE, David Epstein, Gwen Fisher,

Ritchie Flick, Jo French; Michael N. Fried, Swiatoslaw G., IG,

Herbert Gangl, Solomon Garfunkel, Dan Garry, Olivier Gerard,

John Gibbon, Anthony David Gilbert, Jakub Gismatullin, VG,

Alex Grad, IGG, Rostislav Grigorchuk, Michael Gromov, IH, Leo

Harrington, EH, Robin Harte, Toby Howard, RH, Jens Høyrup,

Alan Hutchinson, BH, David Jefferies, Mikhail Katz, Tanya Kho-

vanova, Hovik Khudaverdyan, Elizabeth Kimber, EMK, Jonathan

Kirby, SK, Ekaterina Komendan tskaya, Ul rich Kortenkamp, Charles

Leedham-Green, AL, EL, RL, DMK, JM, Victor Maltcev, MM,

Archie McKerrell, Jonathan McLaughlin, Alexey Muranov, Azadeh

Neman, Ali Nesin, John W. Neuberger, Joachim N eubüser, An -

thony O’Farrell, Alexander Ols hansky one man and a dog, Teresa

Patten, Karen Petrie, NP, Eckhard Pﬂügel, R ichard Porter, Hillary

Povey MP, Alison Price, Mihai Putinar, VR, Roy Stewart Roberts,

FR, PR, AS, John Shackell, Simon J. Shepherd, GCS, VS, Christo-

pher Stephenson, Jerry Swan, Johan Swanl jung, BS, Tim Swift,

RT, Günter Törner, Vadim Tropashko, Viktor Verbovskiy, RW, PW,

JW, RW, MW, Jürgen Wolfart, CW, Maria Zaturska, WZ and Logan

Zoellner

for sh aring with me their childhood memories and/or their ed-

ucational a nd pedagogical experiences;

to parents of DW for allowing me to write about the boy;

and to my colleagues and friends for contributing their expertise

on history of arithmetic and history of inﬁnitesimal s, French and

Turkish languages, artiﬁcial intelligence, turbulence, dimensional

analysis, subtraction, cohomology, p-adic integers, programming,

pedagogy — in effect, on everything — and for sharing with me

their blog posts, papers, photographs, pictures, problems, proofs,

translations:

Santo D’Agostino, Paul Andrews, John Baez, John Baldwin, Oleg

Belegradek, Marc Bezem, Adrien Deloro, Ya

˘

gmur Denizhan , Muriel

Fraser, Michael N. Fried, Alexander Givental, AH, Mitchell Har-

ris, Albrecht Heeffer, Roger Howe, Jens Høyrup, Jodie Hunter

Mikael Johansson, Jean-Michel Kantor, H. Turgay Kaptanoglu,

Serguei Karakozov, Mikhail Katz, Alexander Kheyﬁts Hovik Khu-

daverdyan, Eren Mehmet Kıral, David H. Kirshner, Semen Sam-

sonovich Kutateladze, Vishal Lama, Joseph Lauri, Michael Livshits,

Dennis Lomas, Dan MacKinnon, John Mason, Gábor Megyesi,

Javier Moreno, Ali Nesin , Sevan Ni¸sanyan, Windell H. Oskay,

David Pierce, Donald A. Preece, Thomas Riepe, Jane-Lola Seban,

Ashna Sen, Alexander Shen, Aaron Sloman, Kevin Souza, Chris

Stephenson, Vadim Tropashko, Sergei Utyuzhnikov, Roy Wagner,

Thomas Ward, David Wells, and Dean Wyles;

SHADOWS OF THE TRUTH VER. 0.822 23-NOV-2012/7:23

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ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

xi

and to Tony Gardiner, Yordanka Gorcheva, Dan Garry, Olivier

Gerard, Stephen Gould, Mikhail Katz, Michael Livshits, Alison

Pease and Frederick Ross for sending me detailed comments on,

and corrections to, the on-line version of the book and /or associ-

ated papers.

This text would not appear had I not received a kind invitation

to give a talk at “Is Mathematics Spec ial” conference in Vienna

in May 2008, and without an invitation from A li Nesin to give a

lecture course “Elementary mathematics from the point of view of

“higher” mathematics” at the Nesin Mathematics Village in ¸Sir-

ince, Turkey, in July 2008 and in August 2009. Section 10.1 was

ﬁrst published in a [106] in the proceedings volume o f the Vienna

conference edited by Benedikt Löwe and Thomas Müller. Parts of

the text ﬁ rst appeared in Matematik Dünyası, a popular mathe-

matical journal edited by Ali Nesin [627].

My work on this book was partially suppo r ted by a g rant from

the John Templeton Foundation, a charitable institution which de-

scribes itself as a

“philanthropic catalyst for discovery in areas engaging in life’s

biggest questions.”

Howeve r, the opinions expressed in the book are those of the au-

thor and do not necessarily reﬂect the views of the John Te mpleton

Foundation.

Finally, my thanks go to the blogging community—I have picked

in the blogosphere some ideas and quite a number of references—

especially to the late Dima Fon-Der-Flaass and to my old friend

who prefers to be known only as O wl.

Alexandre Borovik

Didsbury

23 Novem ber 2012

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ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

Contents

Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . v

Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ix

1 Dividing Apples between People . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

1.1 Sharing and dispensing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

1.2 Digression into Turkish grammar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

1.3 Dividing apples by apples: a correct answer . . . . . . . 5

1.4 What are the numbers children are working with? . 6

1.5 The lunch bag arithmetic, or addition of

heterogeneous quantities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

1.6 Duality and pairing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

1.7 Adding fruits, or the augmentation homomorphism 10

1.8 Dimensions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

2 Pedagogical Intermis sion: Human Languages . . . . . . . 13

3 Units of measurement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19

3.1 Fantasy units of measurement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19

3.2 Discussion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21

3.3 History . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23

4 History of Dimensional Analysis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27

4.1 Galileo Galilei . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28

4.2 Froude’s Law of Steamship Comparisons . . . . . . . . . . 30

4.2.1 Difﬁculty of making physical models . . . . . . . . 30

4.2.2 Deduction of Froude’s Law . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31

4.3 Kolmogorov’s “5/3” Law . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32

4.3.1 Turbulent ﬂows: basic setup . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32

4.3.2 Subtler analysis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34

4.3.3 Discussion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35

4.4 Dimension of Lagrange multipliers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36

4.5 Length and area . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38

xiii

xiv Contents

5 Adding One by One . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45

5.1 Adding one by one . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45

5.2 Dedekind-Peano axioms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47

5.3 A brief digression: is 1 a number? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48

5.4 How much mathematics can a child see at the

level of basic counting? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49

5.5 Properties of addition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52

5.5.1 Associativity of addition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53

5.5.2 Commutativity of addition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54

5.6 Dark clouds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55

5.7 Induction and recursion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57

5.8 Digression into inﬁnite descent . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59

5.9 Landau’s proof of the existence of add ition . . . . . . . . 61

6 What is a Minus Sign Anyway? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65

6.1 Fuzziness of the rules . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65

6.2 A formal treatment of subtraction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67

6.3 A formal treatment of negative numbers . . . . . . . . . . 68

6.4 Testimonies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71

6.5 Multivalued groups . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73

7 Counting Sheep . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77

7.1 Numbers in computer science . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77

7.2 Counting sheep . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79

7.3 Abstract nonsense . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81

7.3.1 Existence and uniqueness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81

7.3.2 Unary algebras . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81

7.3.3 Proofs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82

7.4 Induction on systems other than N . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82

7.5 Categories. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84

7.6 Digression:

Natural numbers in Ancient Greece . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85

8 Fractions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87

8.1 Fractions as “named” numbers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87

8.2 Inductive limit . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89

8.3 Field of fractions of an integral domain . . . . . . . . . . . 92

8.4 Back to commutativity of m ultiplication. . . . . . . . . . . 93

9 Pedagogical Intermis sion:

Didactic Transformation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97

9.1 Didactic transformation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97

9.2 Continuity, limit, derivatives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100

9.3 Continuity, limit, derivatives:

the Zoo of alternative approaches . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101

9.4 Some practical issues. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105

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Contents xv

10 Carrying: Cinderella of Arithmetic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109

10.1 Palind romic decimals and palindromic polynomials 109

10.2 DW: a discussion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113

10.3 Decimals and polynomials: an epiphany . . . . . . . . . . . 114

10.4 Carrying: Cinderella of arithmetic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115

10.4.1 Cohomology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115

10.4.2 A few formal deﬁnitions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117

10.4.3 Limits and series . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118

10.4.4 Euler’s sum . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 119

10.5 Unary number system . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120

11 Pedagogical Intermis sion:

Nomination and Deﬁnition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125

11.1 Names . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125

11.2 Nomination . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128

12 The Towers of Hanoi and Binary Trees . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133

13 Mathematics of Finger-Pointing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135

13.1 John Baez: a taste of lambda calculus . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135

13.2 Here it is . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137

13.3 A dialogue with Peter McBride . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139

14 Numbers and Functions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141

14.1 Chinese Remainder Theorem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141

14.1.1 History . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141

14.1.2 Simultaneous Congruences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 142

14.1.3 Algorithm . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 143

14.1.4 Example . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 144

14.2 The Lagrange Interpolation Formula . . . . . . . . . . . . . 144

14.3 Numbers as functions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 146

15 Graph Paper and the Arithmetic of Complex

Numbers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 149

15.1 Graph paper . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 149

15.2 Pizza, logarithms and graph paper . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151

15.3 Multiplication of squares . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153

15.4 Pythagorean triples . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 155

16 Uniqueness of Factorization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159

16.1 Uniqueness of factorization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159

16.2 Dialog with AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 161

16.3 Generalizations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 162

16.4 The Fermat Theorem for polynomials . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163

17 Pedagogical Intermis sion: Factorization . . . . . . . . . . . . 165

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xvi Contents

18 Being in Control . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 167

18.1 Leo Harrington: Who is in control? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 167

18.2 The quest for truth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171

18.3 The quest for logic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 172

18.4 The quest for understanding . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 172

18.5 The quest for power . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 176

18.6 The quest for rigour . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 177

18.7 Suspicion of easy options . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 182

18.8 “Everything had to be proven”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 185

18.9 Raw emotions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 186

18.10 David Epstein: Give students problems that

interest them . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 190

18.11 Autodidact . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 192

18.12 Blocking it out . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 193

19 Controlling Inﬁnity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 195

19.1 Fear of inﬁnity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 195

19.2 Counting on and on . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 196

19.3 Controlling inﬁnity. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 201

19.4 Edge of an abyss . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205

20 Pattern Hunting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 209

21 Visual Thinking vs Formal Logical Thinking . . . . . . . . 213

21.1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 213

21.2 EH: Visualisation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 216

21.3 Lego . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 217

22 Telling Left from Right . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 221

22.1 Why does the mirror change left and right but

does not change up and down? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 221

22.2 Pons Asinorum . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 223

22.3 TB . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 224

22.4 Maria Zaturska . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 225

22.5 MP . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 226

22.6 Digression into ethnography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 226

22.7 BB. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 228

22.8 PD. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 228

22.9 Digression into Estonian language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 230

22.10 Standing arches, hanging chains . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 230

22.11 Orientation of surfaces . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 231

References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 233

Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 281

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ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

1

Dividing Apples between People

It is important not to separate mathematics from life.

You can explain fractions even to he avy drinkers.

If you ask them, ‘Which is larger, 2/3 or 3/5?’

it is likely they will not know. But if you ask,

‘Which is better, two bottles of vodka for three people,

or three bottles of vodka for ﬁve people?’

they will answer you immediately.

They will say two for three, of course.

Israel Gelfand

1.1 Sharing and dispensing

I take the liberty to tell a story from my own life

1

; I believe it is

relevant for the principal theme of this book.

When, as a child, I was told by my teacher that I had to be

careful with “named” numbers and not to add apples and people,

I remember asking her why in that case we can divide apples by

people:

10 app les : 5 people = 2 apples. (1.1)

Even worse: when we distribute 10 apples giving 2 apples to a per-

son, we have

10 app les : 2 apples = 5 people (1.2)

Where do “people” on the right hand side of the equation come

from? Why do “people” appear and not, say, “kids”? There were no

“people” on the left hand side of the operation! How do numbers on

the left hand side know the name of the number on the rig ht hand

side?

1

Call me AVB; I am Russian, male, have a PhD in Mathematics, teach

mathematics in a British university.

1

2 1 Dividing Apples between People

Fig. 1.1. The First Law of Arithmetic: you do not add fruit and people.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Autumn. 1573. Musée du Louvre, Paris. Source:

Wikipedia Commons. Public domain.

There were much deeper reasons for my discomfor t. I had no

bad feelings about dividing 10 apples among 5 people, but I some-

how felt that the problem of deciding how many people would get

apples if each was give n 2 apples from the total of 10, was c om-

pletely different. I tried to visualize the problem as an orderly dis-

tribution of apples to a queue of people, two apples to each person.

The result was deeply disturbing: in horror I saw an endless line

of poor wretches, each stretching out his hand, begging for his two

apples. (I discuss these my childhood fears in more detail in Sec-

tion 19.1.)

Indeed , my childhood e xperience is conﬁrmed by experimental

studies, see Bryant and Squire [264]. To emphasize the difference

between the two operations, I started to call operation (1.1) sharing

and (1.2) dispensing or distribution. I discovere d later that these

operation w ere called partition and quotition in [623]. But even

SHADOWS OF THE TRUTH VER. 0.822 23-NOV-2012/7:23

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ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

1.2 Digression into Turkish grammar 3

sharing is not easy and may lead to mathematical discoveries! If

you do not believe, read a testimony from David Cariolaro:

2

When I was 3 years old I was trying to divide evenly the LEGO

pieces th at I had at that time with my brother— and fa iled in that

respect and burst in tears. When I told my Mum that I could not

divide evenly the pieces she recognized th at I indeed discovered

odd numbers, and that was my ﬁrst mathematical discovery.

Finally, notice that there are similar special cases of subtrac-

tion; it is worth quoting from Romulo Lins [714]:

I once had a very interesting conversation with Alan Bell, at the

time when he was my P h. D. supervisor. He argued that when a

store-clerk gives you the right change by ‘adding up’ he is actually

doing a subtraction. For instance, I h ave to pay $35 and give a

$100 bill to the clerk. He gives me a $5 bi ll and says ‘forty’, gives

me a $10 bill and says ‘ﬁfty’, and ﬁnally gives me a $50 bill and

says ‘a hundred’. I argued that this an d doing a subtraction were

quite different thin gs, as, unless the clerk wants to pay attention

to how much he returned, he will not know, in the end, the change

given (try this out in shops without those modern machines!). And

how can we call ‘subtraction’ an operation that in the end leaves

us without knowing ‘the result of the subtraction’? Shouldn’t we

better call that a ‘change giving’ operation? The same argument

applies to ‘sharing’ and ‘division’.

1.2 Digression into Turkish grammar

A lo gical d ifference betwee n the operations of sharing and dispens-

ing is reﬂected in the grammar of the Turkish language by the pres-

ence of a special form of numerals, distributive numerals.

What follows was told to me by David Pierce, Eren Mehmet

Kıral and Sevan Ni¸sanyan.

First David Pierce:

Turkish h as several systems of numerals, all based on the cardi-

nals; a s well as a few numerical peculiarities.

The cardinals begin:

bir, iki, üç, dört, be¸s, altı, . . .(one, two, three, . . . )

These answer the question

Kaç? (How many?)

The ordinals take the sufﬁx -inci, adjusted for vowel harmony:

2

DC is male, Italian, has a PhD in mathematics, holds a research po-

sition. In this epi sode, the language of communication was his mother

tongue, Italian.

SHADOWS OF THE TRUTH VER. 0.822 23-NOV-2012/7:23

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ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

4 1 Dividing Apples between People

birinci, ikinci, üçüncü, dördüncü, be¸sinci, altıncı, .

(ﬁrst, second, third, . . .)

These answer the question

Kaçıncı?

The distributi ves take the sufﬁx -(¸s)er:

birer, iki¸ser, üçr, . . .

Used singly, these mean “one each, two each” and so on, a s in “I

want two fruits from each of these baskets”; they answer the ques-

tion

Kaçar?

Then Eren Mehmet Kıral continues:

When somebody is distributing some goods s/he might say

Be¸ser be¸ser alın. (Each one of you take ﬁve) or

˙

I ki¸ser elma alın. (Take two apples each)

I do not know if it is a grammatical rule (or if it is important)

but when the name of the object being distributed is not mentioned

then the distributive numeral is repeated as in the ﬁrst example.

The numeral may also be used in a non distributive problem. If

somebody is asking students (or soldiers) to make rows consisting

of 7 people each then s/ he might say

Yedi¸ser yedi¸ser dizilin. (Get into rows of seven)

In that context, a story told to me by one of my colleagues, ¸SUE

3

is very interesting. His experience of arithmetic in his (Turkish) el-

ementary school, when he was about 8 or 9 years old, had a peculiar

trouble spot: he could factorize numbers up to 100 before he learnt

the times table, so he could instantly say that 42 factors as 6×7, but

if asked, on a d ifferent occasion, what is 6 ×7, h e could not answer.

Also, he could not accept the con cept of division with remainder: if

a teacher asked him how many 3s go into 19 (expecting an answer:

6, and 1 is left ov er), little ¸SUE was very uncomfortable—he knew

that 3 did not go into 19. ¸SUE added:

But I did not pay attention to 19 being prime. I h ad the same prob-

lem when I was asked how many 3s go into 1 6. It is th e same

thing: no 3s go in 16. Simply because 3 is not a factor of 16. This is

perhaps because of distributive numerals I somehow built up an

intuition of factorizing, but perhaps for the same reason (because

of the intuition that dis tributive gave) I could not understand di-

vision with remainder.

As we can see, ¸SUE does not dismiss the suggestion that dis-

tributive numer als of his mother tongue could have made it easier

for him to form concept of divisibility and pr im e numbers (although

he did not know the term “prime numbe r”) before he learned mul-

tiplication.

3

¸SUE is Turkish, male, recent mathematics graduate.

SHADOWS OF THE TRUTH VER. 0.822 23-NOV-2012/7:23

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ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

1.3 Dividi ng apples by apples: a correct answer 5

¸SUE only made his peace with remainder s during his ﬁrst year

at university, when the process of division with remainde r was in-

troduced as a formal technique. He is not alone in waiting years be-

fore ﬁnally being told that division with re mainder is not a binary

operation because it produces two outputs, n ot one, as a binary op-

eration should: partial quotient and remainder. Indeed here is a

story from Dan Garry

4

:

When I was seven, I had to take a week off because I was sick. We

were s tudying division at the time, and during the week I missed,

the concept of remainders was covered. I asked the teacher what a

“remainder” was and she was rather dismissive, saying “It’s what’s

left over when you divide”. This made absolutely no sense to me;

I remember thinking “7 divided by 3 is 2, what exactly is there

to be left over?”. Looking back on it, it occurs to me that I was

thinking of division as a binary operation: 7 divided by 3 is exactly

2. As silly as it might sound, I never really ﬁgured out the rela-

tion between “division” and “remainders” of integers until I went

to a lecture on the division algorithm in my ﬁrst year of university,

which conveniently took place a few hours after a lecture in com-

puter science about how the JAVA programming language handles

integer division.

1.3 Divi ding apples by apples: a correct answer

But let us return to comparing problems (1.1) and (1.2). In the ﬁrst

problem you have a ﬁx ed data set: 10 apples and 5 people, and you

can easily visualize giving apples to the people, in rounds, o ne ap-

ple to a person at a time, until no apples were left. But, as I have

already mentioned, an attempt to visualize the second p roblem in

a similar way, as an orderly distribution of apples to a queue of

people, two apples to each person, necessitates dealing with a po-

tentially unlimited number of recipients.

I asked my teacher for help, but did not get a satisfactory an-

swer. Only much later did I realize that the co r rect naming of the

numbers should be

10 app les : 5 people = 2

apples

people

, 10 app les : 2

apples

people

= 5 people.

(1.3)

I was not alone in my discomfort with “named nu mbers” and

“units”. Here is a testimony from John Gibbon

5

:

4

DG is male, 21 years old, was born and raised in Englan d . He is a ﬁn al

year undergraduate s tudying Computer Science and Mathematics in a

British university.

5

JDG is male, British, a professor of applied mathematics.

SHADOWS OF THE TRUTH VER. 0.822 23-NOV-2012/7:23

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ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

6 1 Dividing Apples between People

Fig. 1. 2 . Paul Cézanne. Still Life with Basket of Apples. 1890–94. The Art

Institute of Chicago. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

At the age of 6 years I was asked the question “How many oranges

make 5?”. I recall that I refused to answer. This indicated to her

that I was unintelligent, which had been her worry. Later in life

I realized why my 6 year-old mind had felt th ere was something

wrong with the question. The issue was one of units: “How many

oranges make 5 what?” was the problem turning round in my 6

year-old mind. On the one hand one cannot change oranges into

something else so I rejected “How many oranges make 5 apples?”

On the other hand, if the answer was “How many oranges make 5

oranges?” then we had a tautology. I did not know what a tauto-

logical argument was but I knew I felt uncomfortable with it.

Therefore let us look into equations (1.3) with some attention.

1.4 What ar e the numbers children are working

with?

It is a commonplace wisdom that the development of mathemati-

cal skills in a student goes alon gside the gradual expansion of the

realm of numbers with which he or she works, from natural num-

bers to integers, then to rational, real, complex numbers:

N ⊂ Z ⊂ Q ⊂ R ⊂ C.

SHADOWS OF THE TRUTH VER. 0.822 23-NOV-2012/7:23

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ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

1.4 What are the numbers children are working with? 7

What is missing from this natural hierarchy is that already at

the level of elementary school arithmetic children are working in

a much more sophisticated structure, a graded ring

Q[x

1

, x

−1

1

, . . . , x

n

, x

−1

n

].

of Laurent polynomials

6

in n variables over Q, where symbols

x

1

, . . . , x

n

stand for the names of objects involved in the calculation: apples,

persons, etc. This explains why educational psychologists conﬁ-

dently claim that the operations (1.1) and (1.2) on Page 1 have little

in common [264]—indeed, operation (1.2) involves an ope r and “ap-

ple/people” of a much more complex nature than basic “apples” and

“people” in operation (1.1): “apple/people” could appear only as a

result of some previous division.

This difﬁculty was identiﬁed already by François Viéte who in

1591 wrote in his Introduction to the Analytic Art [237] that

If one magnitude is divided by another, [the quotient] is heteroge-

neous to the former . . . Mu ch of the fogginess and obscurity of the

old analysts is due to their not paying attention to these [rules].

The presence of grading can be felt by some children. This is

what is told to me by IG

7

:

My story hasn’t ﬁnished yet, as the problem is still very much with

me now, as it was when I was 7. The bane of my existence is the

addition and multiplication of integers. Take, for example, 75. The

teacher would have us believe that 75 as 5 × 5 × 3, a s 15 × 5 etc.

all were ’the same’ 75. For the life of me I can’t believe it, and no

proof convinces me. To me, 5×5×3 is somehow 3 dimensional, and

75 is something like volume. Then, when adding numbers, I get a

moment of panic as if I am trying add things of different dimension

and have no way of obtainin g the correct dimensions just from the

volume, and so the whole thing can’t possibly be right.

The only progress I made over many years is that I learned

to stuff this treacherous thought away whenever it rears its ugly

head.

Even so, perhaps there is no need to te ach Laurent polynomials

to kids (or even to teachers); but we n eed some simple c ommon lan-

guage that addresses the subtleties without adding unnecessary

6

Laurent polynomials and Laurent series are named after French mili-

tary engineer Pierre Alphonse Laurent (1813–1854) who was the ﬁrst

to introduce them. Another his major a chievement was construction of

the port of Le Havre.

7

IG is femal e, a PhD student in a leading British university. She went to

school in Russia and was educated in Russian, her mother tongue.

SHADOWS OF THE TRUTH VER. 0.822 23-NOV-2012/7:23

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ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

8 1 Dividing Apples between People

sophistication. This is w hy I devote Chapters 3 and 4 to discus-

sion of dimensional analysis, that is, the use of “named” num bers

in physics. To my taste, it provides a number of interesting elemen-

tary examples that may be used if not at school but then at least in

teachers’ training.

This need for proper language for elementary school arithmetic

is emphasized by Ron Aharoni [609]:

Beside the four classi c operations there i s a ﬁ f th one, more basic

and important: that of forming a unit. Taking a part of the world

and declaring it to be the “whole”. This operation is at the base of

much of the mathematics of primary school. First of all, in count-

ing: when you have another such unit you say you have “two”, and

so on. The operation of multiplication is based on taking a set,

declaring that this is the unit, and repeating it. The concept of a

fraction starts from having a whole, from which parts are taken.

At the “adult” le vel, “forming a unit” may be viewed as setting

up an appropriate Laurent polynomial ring as an ambient struc-

ture for a particular arithmetic problem. Later we shall see that,

once we set up a structure, it inevitably comes into interaction with

other structures, thus leading to some (very elementary and there-

fore very important) category theory coming into play (see Chap-

ter 7).

1.5 The lunch bag arithmetic, or addition of

heterogeneous quantities

Usually, only Laurent monomials are interpreted as having physi-

cal (or real life) meaning. But the addition of he terogeneous quan-

tities still makes sense and is done componentwise: if you have

a lunch bag with (2 apples + 1 orange), and another bag, with

(1 apple + 1 orange), together they make

(2 apples +1 orange)+(1 apple +1 orange) = (3 apples +2 oranges).

Notice that the “lunch bag” metaphor gives a very intuitive and

straightforward approach to vectors: a lunch bag is a vector (at

least this is how vectors are used in econometrics and mathem ati-

cal economics).

1.6 Duality and pairing

The “lunch bag” approach to vectors allows a natural introduc-

tion of duality and tensors: the total cost of a purchase of amou nts

SHADOWS OF THE TRUTH VER. 0.822 23-NOV-2012/7:23

c

ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

1.6 Duality and pairing 9

g

1

, g

2

, g

3

of some goods at prices p

1

, p

2

, p

3

is a “scalar product”-type

8

expression

g

i

p

i

.

We see that the quantities g

i

and p

i

could be of completely different

nature. In physics, as a rule, the dot produ ct involves heteroge-

neous magnitudes. In introductory physics courses, the do t product

usually makes its ﬁrst appearance on the scen e as work done by

moving an objec t, which is the dot product of the force applied and

the displacement of the object.

The standard treatment of scalar (dot) product of vectors in un-

dergraduate linear algebra usually conceals the fact that dot prod-

uct is a manifestation of duality or pairing of vector spaces, thu s

creating imme nse difﬁculties in the subsequent study of tensor al-

gebra. As the following testimony from CB

9

shows, the boredom

and confusion start even earlier:

I remember the very ﬁrst conceptual difﬁculty I ever had: that was

the sca lar product of vectors. I could n ot ﬁgure why an operation

involving two vectors should yield a plain number, and my teach-

ers could not explain what that number meant in relation to the

two vectors. As a result I ha ted scalar products as all we did with

them was a meaningless if easy algebraic manipulation.

Indeed scalar (or dot) produc t as it appears in physics is a pair-

ing of two vector spaces U and V of different nature; assuming that

we are working over the real num bers R, pairing is a map

U × V → R

(u, v) → u ·v

which is bilinear, that is,

(au

1

+ bu

2

) ·v = au

1

· v + bu

2

· v

and similarly

u · (av

1

+ bv

2

) = au ·v

1

+ bu ·v

2

,

in both cases for all a, b ∈ R and all vectors u, u

i

∈ U and v, v

i

∈ V .

If it is possible to ignore physical (or ﬁnancial) meanings of the

vector spaces U and V , then the two spaces become lo gically undis-

tinguishable. Paradoxically, this provides another source of difﬁ-

culty for those students who are sensitive to formal logical aspects

of mathematical concepts.

8

Scalar product is also cal led dot product or inner product.

9

CB is female, holds a PhD, works a s an editorial director in a math-

ematics publishing house. Her mother tongue is French, but she was

educated in English. The epi sode described happened at age 12.

SHADOWS OF THE TRUTH VER. 0.822 23-NOV-2012/7:23

c

ALEXANDRE V. BORO VIK

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