cover image A Mathematical Mystery Tour: Discovering the Truth and Beauty of the Cosmos

A Mathematical Mystery Tour: Discovering the Truth and Beauty of the Cosmos

A. K. Dewdney, Dewdney. John Wiley & Sons, $32.5 (218pp) ISBN 978-0-471-23847-8

Does the realm of numbers exist independently of numbers' manifestations in physical structures, awaiting our discovery? Or has humanity created mathematics and then found that it applies wondrously well to creation? Dewdney (200% of Nothing: The Armchair Universe) spins an absorbing narrative in which he searches the globe for answers to these questions. In order to consult colleagues on the nature of math, the author travels in his imagination to the temple of Miletus, where Pythagoras once worked; to the Jordanian desert under a night sky; to the damp palazzos of Venice; and finally to the golden-tinted spires of Oxford. Dewdney refers to important mathematical discoveries, many of which were made by scientists in different cultures independently of one another, in an attempt to puzzle out whether we discover or create mathematics. Unfortunately, too much attention is given to the history of math, which many other writers have addressed, while not enough is devoted to the application of the author's fictional discussions in order to answer his questions. Intriguingly, at the end, Dewdney turns to the ideas of ""essential content,"" ""the holos"" and even a cosmos ""permeated with consciousness,"" for possible ultimate answers. Throughout, his plotting and dialogue work well, though he miscasts himself, albeit effectively, as a mathematical na f. There's not much new here for the mathematically sophisticated. Those less informed, but interested in the history of mathematical discovery and the deep issues Dewdney raises, will, however, find the book to be an amenable introduction to a difficult subject. (Mar.)