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Science or Art?

Date: 05/29/2001 at 22:36:52
From: Erin 
Subject: Is math a science or an art?

My question is, is math a science or an art?  

I understand how it can be used maybe for both. Math is used to form 
tessellations and they are a form of art. And science is all about 
numbers. But I do not understand how to support that math is a form of 
art or that it is scientifically figured out. It might even be both - 
but how do you support what you say?

Date: 05/29/2001 at 23:40:27
From: Doctor Peterson
Subject: Re: Is math a science or an art?

Hi, Erin.

I think you first have to find out what "science" and "art" mean in 
this question. The question is not, is math used in science or art, 
but is it AN art or A science. The terms you're dealing with are used 
in different ways, and your first need is to define them carefully. If 
you were asked this question by a human, ask what they mean by the 
terms; if it came from a book, ask another book (a dictionary) for 

In my view of this question, the definition of "a science" from my
dictionary that best fits our needs would be "a department of 
systematized knowledge as an object of study"; this doesn't 
necessarily have to be, as another definition says, "knowledge 
covering general truths or the operation of general laws esp. as 
obtained and tested through scientific method." That is, the mere fact 
that math is an orderly study of something makes it a science. It is 
different from natural sciences, however, in that we determine truth 
by proof rather than by observation and experiment. So it doesn't 
exactly follow the scientific method, but it's similar.

On the other hand, the first definition my dictionary gives for "an 
art" is "skill in performance acquired by experience, study, or 
observation," and another is "a system of rules or methods of 
performing particular actions." The aesthetic aspect of "art" is only 
one of many definitions. Math (even apart from pictures) is often 
called beautiful by those who know it well; but that's not what I 
would mean in calling it an art. Rather, it is an art because it 
involves skill.

The other thing you have to think about is, what is math? It's not 
just arithmetic, but a whole set of different fields in which we 
discover and prove theorems, use them to invent methods of calculation 
or construction, and ask new questions about completely imaginary 
objects. Students often miss the full extent of math, and get too 
small a view of it.

Putting all this together, I would say math is both an art (a system 
of skills used to do calculations, devise proofs, and so on) and a 
science (a system of knowledge about numbers, shapes, and other 
abstract entities, and a way of gaining that knowledge). That is, it's 
both a way of doing (an art) and a way of learning (a science).

You'll want to make your own study of definitions, choose how you want 
to interpret the terms, and then learn what you can about what math 
is, in order to come up with your own opinion.

- Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum
Associated Topics:
High School About Math
Middle School About Math

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