# A Dream of Maths

Yesterday, I awoke from a dream. A dream so vivid, so pure, so true, it demanded to be shared with the world.

Here it is.

I was in a classroom. A college, perhaps, or a tuition centre. Though the students wore light blue uniforms, the tables were long benches, with a half-dozen seats each.

On the whiteboard was scrawled a score of questions. Maths questions.

My benchmate, an Indian lad with skin like dusk and teeth like ivory, leaned in with a grin.

“She wants us to work on these questions together. 3, 7, 8,” he said.

I took up my pencil and notebook, and transcribed the questions on the board. But the first two questions were not maths questions at all.

Not in the way you expect.

*1. Is mathematics useful?*

*A. Yes*

*B. No*

*2. Can you apply mathematics to the classroom?*

*A. Yes*

*B. No*

For the first question, I circled A. For the second, I chose B.

The teacher frowned at that.

Wizened with age, shrunken over decades, the frown piled on a century to her face. She was about to harangue me for choosing B. As her lips twisted in anger, I rose to my feet and cut her off.

“Maths isn’t just for the classroom. Maths is everywhere.”

Her jaw dropped in astonishment. The class whirled around to face me, shocked and stunned.

You don’t do that. Not in Singapore. You don't just cut off a teacher, never mind one who was about to reprimand you.

But this was a dream, and dreams follow their own rules.

“Look," I said.

I snapped my fingers.

“Try that,” I urged.

The teacher, befuddled, snapped her fingers. And so did everyone around me.

“That was governed by maths,” I said. “Not just the snap. The movement. The sound. *Everything*. Everything can be calculated by maths.”

I took a step forward.

“This is maths. Movement is maths. There is an equation for every motion.

“Can you see them? Can you feel them? Do you hear what the philosophers call the music of the spheres? Western music is based on mathematics.”

And here, I confess, the dream burned away in the first rays of the sun. The only response I heard was the cawing of crows and the calls of koels.

But in my head, though I was halfway between sleep and wakefulness, the speech went on.

“We have thus far talked about physics. In chemistry, the interaction of chemicals is maths. In biology, biological processes is maths. The root of these fields of science is maths.

“Maths is universal. And the reason maths is universal is because it touches on universal constants—the constants that are the very foundations of the universe.

“What is Truth? The revelation of reality, founded on these constants.

“What is Beauty? The highest expression of these universal laws.

“What is Goodness? In an age of machine guns and A-bombs, we must learn to use maths wisely, or risk the destruction of all mankind.”

“Maths is universal.

“It tells us of the deep laws binding the universe together. It shows how they are united in a grand, cosmic whole. It points us to the moment of the Big Bang—and beyond.

“And what came before the Big Bang? Ah, but that is for you to find out.

“Maths is not just dry numbers and formulae. Maths is not just for the classroom.

“In maths, we witness the unfolding of the universe.”

And then, at last, I came to full wakefulness.

I wish I had this dream half a lifetime ago, back in my schooldays, when maths was for homework and exams and little else.

I had learned maths the conventional way. Introduction to a formula, endless drills through classwork and homework, checking of progress through tests, then moving on to the next formula. And the next. And the next.

The formulae were all taught in isolation, drilling deep but never wide, the exercises confined to lectures and textbooks, abstract questions and assignments, all of them far removed from the real world—and from each other.

I was bored. I was frustrated. More to the point—I saw no point in maths.

During my secondary and junior college days, classes were informally divided into Arts and Science groups, based on the subjects you studied. It was presented as a binary: either you had a head for humanities or a head for numbers. Science was seen as more prestigious, while Arts was easier. Stymied by my academic performance, I shuffled off into the Arts stream.

I know now that though a person may specialize in one field or another, there is no artificial demarcation between Arts and Science. In the unity of both lies wonders.

The great paintings, sculptures and architecture of the world were built upon maths and science—maths and science employed from a human perspective, to evoke grand emotions in the viewer through grandness of form. In the contemporary world, this tradition of unity of arts and numbers lives on, best seen in Apple’s products during the era of Steve Jobs.

Ah, if only I had had this revelation as a teen! Would my life had turned out any different? Could I have become a mathematician instead, excavating beauty from the logic of numbers? Might I have been a scientist, infusing equations with artistic sensibilities in pursuit of wonder and innovation?

I do not know. I cannot know. All those years are lost to me, all those doors closed.

Yet here and now, I do know this:

In the unity of arts and science lies wonder.

Wonder points to that which is greater than this.

And I? I am a writer of science fiction and fantasy.

What I cannot build, I can dream. And in words, my dreams take flight.

The closest I've come to achieving this unity of arts of science so far is in Saga of the Swordbreaker. Check it out here!

You are 100% correct. Even as humanity discovers more mathematics, it is true that it underlies everything that we do. The basic nuclear chemistry that makes up the universe relies on the mathematical principles that were created along with the universe itself, and these are the principles that some mathematicians work to uncover.

Your dream was a vision of reality. Good for you for taking this truth to heart and for sharing it with the rest of us here. 😊

Thanks!

I find maths really beautiful.

And this is why my son says, "Yeah. But you're a nerd." To tease me.

It is though. And I know nothing about it really. It's just that when we learn it together and it fits so perfectly and makes such absolute sense it's quite incredible.

And, sometimes, when you see how the numbers work in every direction and backwards and forwards and even upside down... if even seems a bit magical.

The golden ratio :) I think that's what you're referring to with regards to art and design?

That's next level fascinating. Isn't it?

Yes, I was referring to the golden ratio. And other things: proportions, measurements, calculations, material sciences, research and development of materials and techniques...

The universe is vast and grand and complex—and yet it also fits together so seamlessly, so neatly, a man can't help but wonder if there is something out there that can explain everything. And if such a theory can be found, it will likely be written in the language of maths.

I was going to say in sound... but I'm guessing that's maths as well somehow! :)

Absolutely! Funny, I teach literature and my hubs teaches Physics/maths. As poeple we recognize the world is art and science. Beautiful indeed

It is a very rare maths teacher that can engage in the manner of your dream. The world would be different if so!!

A beautiful piece. I enjoyed this muchly. I would have loved a student to get up and protest in the manner of your dream!

In my country, schools teach students to shut up and obey.

All we have left are dreams.

I have heard that. You should change that. Mind you, it's easier for teachers 🤣🤣🤣