More Than Just Numbers

By Timothy Lapuz, The University of Sydney

Why did I become interested in mathematics?

There are many reasons. One is because of its beauty. There’s really something about the way in which mathematics describes a universe, not necessarily ours, in elegant ways. Another is because of the many teachers and friends that I shared a similar passion with. The different ways in which we understood a concept made learning much more exciting.

One of the first instances in which I realised mathematics was more than just number-crunching was during my first year of high school.  My teacher then asked us why having a double negative makes a positive. In other words, why does taking away a negative mean that you must add that number? At that point, I’ve never though about it. It was a question that threw me off guard. I’ve simply learned the rules of arithmetic, but he wanted us to understand where the rules came from.

He proceeded to pick up a box and write “-6” on it. He told us to imagine it as an air-conditioner, reducing the temperature by six degrees when in the room. He then went out of the room and put the box outside.

And then it clicked.

By removing the air-conditioner, we have added six degrees to the temperature.

And I thought that was beautiful. Simple, but elegant.

And that was when I realised mathematics is more than just numbers. It was about understanding the world around and beyond us.


Timothy Lapuz was a recipient of a 2018/19 AMSI Vacation Research Scholarship.

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