Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Math Doodles

If you haven’t seen them already, you must watch Vi Hart’s fantastic math doodle videos on stars, squiggles, fractals, and infinite elephants. Browse the rest of her web site too, and be awe-struck at how accomplished she is at having fun.

I’m not much of a doodler, but Hart’s masterpieces reminded me of this modest Escheresque MacPaint doodle that I made soon after buying my first (original!) Macintosh computer in 1985. That was during my first year of grad school, when I should have been putting every effort into those problem sets on quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, and solid state physics. Why are we most creative when we’re avoiding what we’re supposed to do?

(By the way, isn’t it cool that I can still open that MacPaint file in Preview? Thanks, Apple! Now please tell me how to open my old MacWrite files...)

Thanks to Charlie Trentelman for pointing me, via Facebook, to a blog post on Hart’s videos by NPR’s Robert Krulwich. And thanks to my old grad school friend Ned Gulley, whose venerable blog featured an entry last year about Hart’s Möbius music box. It’s become trendy to gripe about the Internet and Facebook, but this is the sort of thing I love about both.

Krulwich also quotes from Paul Lockhart’s magnificent tirade about math education, “A Mathematician’s Lament.” It’s not new, but I don’t think I’d ever seen it before. Read it and weep.


  1. Googling around, I see that my doodle consists of a pair of "Penrose triangles", and that a Penrose triangle built out of cubes was featured on a Swedish stamp in 1982. Perhaps I should go home and check my copy of Gödel, Escher, Bach to see if a cube version appears there as well. I know I had that book in mind when I made the MacPaint doodle, but I had forgotten how incredibly unoriginal my doodle was!

  2. Downloaded Lockhart's pdf. Holiday reading. Thanks for the link.


Not registered? Just choose "Name/URL" and enter any name you like; you can ignore the URL field.