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Eugene Hui 12.5 Teacher: Mr.


Discuss the roles of reason and language in one Area of Knowledge

Ever since its emergence, the subject of mathematics has intrigued even the most brilliant of minds. Unlike areas of knowledge such as history, which falls under the general scope of social studies, math itself is a specific branch of knowledge that stands by itself. Yet, because of the unique classification of math, defining it has also proved to be a monumental challenge.

Carl Friedrich Gauss, a German mathematician and scientist, called math the Queen of all Sciences since math is the scientific study of quantity (Zeidler, E, 2004) On the other hand, Einstein struggled to define what math was. In the end, he reached numerous conclusions, one of which was that mathematics is a language in its own right. (Arianrhod, R, 2005). Certainly, many more disagreed. Philosopher Karl Popper noted that mathematics, unlike conventional science disciplines such as chemistry and physics, was not falsifiable. As this precludes math from being a science, Popper concluded that math was simply an area of knowledge with basic principles deeply rooted in conjectures and theorems (Shasha, D, 1995).

Just through three different perspectives, it has been demonstrated that an area of knowledge like math cannot be confined to one definition alone. Undeniably math is different to the extent where defining it can lead to more questions than answers. Fortunately, it is possible to see how different Ways of Knowing interact with this Area of Knowledge.

Before delving deeper into understanding how reason and language play a role in math, it is important to understand what all words mean. In our everyday usage, language is roughly defined as the method of human communication through means such as speaking and writing. (Language, n.d.) But in a TOK sense, language means much more. Language can refer to the systems through which people can learn and communicate both simple and complex ideologies, and conforms to a system of predetermined rules that

Eugene Hui 12.5 Teacher: Mr. Morgan must be adhered to during communication. Language is not simply about getting information passed from point A to B, but rather spreading knowledge in general. (Ways of Knowing, n.d.)

Meanwhile, reason in the context of daily life is often what we, as humans, perceive to the cause and explanation of something. (Reason, n.d.) However, reason is actually what allows human beings to go beyond our regular instincts. Reason is closely related to logic, and hence, reason is what allows answers to be deducted from seemingly impossible enigmas in life, even if it is how to solve a Rubiks Cube. But we simply know reason as drawing conclusions from observations, where we go from the general scope of ideas to a more specific area.

Much of math is made up of a series of theorems and postulates. Facts we take for granted, such as through any two points, there is exactly one line and if two lines intersect, then they intersect in exactly one point, are actually a series of logical deductions based on the use of reason. (Postulates and Theorems, n.d.) On the other hand, differentiation from first principles in calculus is another example of reason at work in mathematics. When Isaac Newton first derived the formula, he was able to do so based on a series of general observations on straight lines in addition to applying logic. The first principles of differentiation [ ( )
( ) ( )

] then allowed mathematicians at the time to find the slope of

any curve, which of course also allowed Newton to come up with the rest of what we now know as differential calculus.

Without the application of reason, it would have been impossible for such pivotal mathematical advancements to take place. Reason was the driving force behind the fundamental concepts of math, allowing mathematicians to go beyond what was known during their time by using logical deductions to come up with new theories. Were it not for emerging mathematical concepts as time passed, then math and even society as a whole would not be where it is currently.

Eugene Hui 12.5 Teacher: Mr. Morgan

While reason is what allows for new concepts to come into existence in mathematics, language entitles math to become a tool for communication and the overall dissemination of knowledge. Take the case of Pi (3.14159265) for example. Pi, for those who are unfamiliar, is the name given to the ratio between the diameter of a circle and its circumference. (Pi, 2005) Undeniably, reason was utilized in the ascertaining of Pi, but the more important fact to take into account is the fact that Pi exists in all corners of the globe and is 3.14159 regardless of the country, culture, religion, or gender. In all schools, Pi is still taught the same way because mathematical language allows it to be expressed in the exact same way in any given location.

What is important from Pi is the fact that math does not need a language in order to be conveyed. It simply is a language. Adding up the total costs of goods at a supermarket will always undergo the same addition process even though currency and quantity may completely be different. Not every single person on the planet is literate, but somehow all of us possess the ability to use math as a language even if the ability only extends to basic arithmetic.

With this universal language in our minds, we can program computers to do work for us, engineer cars with speeds over 300 kilometers per hour, or even figure out how much fuel is needed onboard a Boeing 747 flying across the Pacific. Math is a language by itself. It allows communication and the spread of mathematical knowledge, and brings together people of different backgrounds to solve common puzzles facing the human race.

There is irrefutable evidence that reason and language play a decisive role in the field of mathematics. The two factors are so important that physicist Richard Feynman mentioned in this book The Character of Physical Law that Mathematics is a language plus reason; it is like a language plus logic. (Feynman, R, P, n.d.) However, the question itself has also assumed that reason and language are the only Ways of

Eugene Hui 12.5 Teacher: Mr. Morgan Knowing that play a role in math. This limits the extent of our understanding of math, while seemingly restricting the extent of other factors that actually do play a role in math.

Take intuition for example. Intuition is the way in which knowledge is acquired without the complete dependence on reason. It allow humans to quickly grasp concepts based on the use of innate abilities, such as with the transitive property where if a=b and b=c, then a=c (Theorems and Properties, n.d.). Our inborn mathematical abilities programmed us to accept such concepts as fact without question for their authenticity. But this begs the question why?

With the case of math, there are certain concepts that we must accept as fact without question. Even now, the quantity we know as one has no formal definition. It simply is defined as the lowest number; half of two. Likewise, two is defined as twice of one, whereas five is the equivalent to the sum of two and three. If we were to question these definitions of the most fundamental topics known to humanity, then math would collapse on itself. Intuition bypasses this thought process, and allows us to passively absorb certain concepts, but in a useful way of course.

Try inputting

into a calculator. Assuming the calculator knows what it is doing, the answer should

be undefined. That is because math is not yet fully understood at this point, and for what we dont understand, we must accept under the terms of imagination. Roots of negative numbers have yet to be explored; their solutions are considered imaginary concepts (hence the term imaginary numbers). For the next century(ies), we are using our imagination in place of the mathematical concepts that will one day explain the root of negative numbers. But the status quo informs us to assume that an explanation is out there somewhere, while imagination is the only factor that lets us carry on with the rest of math. Up until when a mathematician comes up with a new theory, at least.

Eugene Hui 12.5 Teacher: Mr. Morgan Surely, different interactions between ways of knowing and math continues. Memory allows us to engrave the multiplication tables in our minds for decades, while faith (in a similar way to imagination), allows us to accept facts beyond our capability to conceptualize them. Such assertions certainly open even more paths for discussion.

Ultimately, reason was shown to be a driving force behind new mathematical concepts. Language, on the other hand, not only proved to be a medium of communication and spreading knowledge in math, but led to the conclusion that math itself is a language that all seven billion people can speak. Other interactions between other Ways of Knowing ensued, and suggested that other Areas of Knowledge also play a role in math.

Math is so hard to understand through definitions because there are so many other determinants to what math is. Whether it is Einstein or Feynman, each has his own definition of math. Certainly, it is a language, a science, or a branch of logic. However, I believe it would best to simply acknowledge the fact that math undoubtedly interacts with other branches of knowledge. A definition for math should not be sought after, as math can never be explicitly defined, nor can we afford to let a definition restrict how we view math and the knowledge that comes with it. Even to this day, it is not as important to knowing what math is, than to understand what factors actually interact with the Area of Knowledge itself.

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Eugene Hui 12.5 Teacher: Mr. Morgan

Bibliography: Language. (n.d.). Theory of Knowledge Net. Retrieved December 5, 2013, from Reason. (n.d.). Theory of Knowledge Net. Retrieved December 5, 2013, from Ways of Knowing. (n.d.). IB Diploma Programme. Retrieved December 5, 2013, from =3 Postulates and Theorems. (n.d.). Cliffs Notes. Retrieved December 5, 2013, from Pi. (2005, July 24). The World of Math Online. Retrieved December 5, 2013, from Feynman, R. P. (n.d.). The Character of Physical Law. Goodreads. Retrieved December 8, 2013, from Theorems and Properties. (n.d.). Theorems and Postulates for Geometry. Retrieved December 9, 2013, from Zeidler, E. (2004). Oxford user's guide to mathematics. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Arianrhod, R. (2005). Einstein's heroes: Imagining the world through the language of mathematics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Shasha, D. (1995). Out of their minds: The lives and discoveries of 15 great computer scientists. New York, NY: Copernicus.