Jose Carillo's Forum


This section features links to interesting, instructive, or thought-provoking readings about the English language and related disciplines. The selections could be anywhere from light and humorous to serious and scholarly, and they range widely from the reading, writing, listening, and speaking disciplines to the teaching and learning of English.

How math and biology joined forces to unravel the riddle of life

If you take more kindly to biology because you find mathematics too abstract and tough for comfort, and if you gravitate toward mathematics because you want to avoid biology’s focus on messy organic forms, there’s a new book that’s likely to make you see both in a friendlier, more revealing light: Ian Stewart’s Mathematics of Life: Unlocking the Secrets of Existence (Basic Books, 368 pages). Stewart, a British mathematics professor and bestselling author who has written nearly 30 books popularizing mathematics, explains in clear, fascinating layman’s terms how mathematics and biology have now joined hands to solve the puzzle of the nature and origin of life itself.

Mathematics of Life

“It is difficult to find many biologists who enjoy math, or vice versa, but British number cruncher Ian Stewart successfully crosses over,” says the science magazine Discover in a review of Stewart’s Mathematics of Life in its June 2011 issue. “Here he argues that solving some of the biggest scientific mysteries, including life’s origins and prevalence in the universe, hinges on a union of these fields. He skillfully recasts the history of biology within a mathematical context (Mendel’s study of inherited traits in pea plants, for example, depended on uncovering simple mathematical patterns), then applies his left-brained perspective to the hot new field of astrobiology.”

In a review of Stewart’s Mathematics of Life in the mathematics magazine +Plus, Adam Kucharski says: “Stewart is a stalwart of the popular maths genre, having previously written accounts of mathematical subjects as diverse as chaos theory, symmetry and probability, and his engaging, accessible style is also present here. In fact, this book doesn't contain much mathematics in the shape of formulae and calculations, but this is precisely Stewart’s point about mathematical biology – the puzzles should come from the biologists, rather than biology just being another area of application for existing mathematical results.”

Read a preview of Ian Stewart’s Mathematics of Life in the website now!

Read Alex Bellos’s review of Ian Stewart’s Mathematics of Life in The Guardian now!

Read Adam Kucharski’s review of Ian Stewart’s Mathematics of Life in +Plus Magazine now!

Ian Stewart is professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick, England. He broadcasts regularly on television and radio, and has written articles for Nature, New Scientist, Scientific American and many other periodicals. He is the author or co-author of over 60 books including the best-selling Does God Play Dice?, Life’s Other Secret, Fearful Symmetry and Nature’s Numbers, which was shortlisted for the 1996 Rhone-Poulenc Science Prize. In 1995 he was awarded the Michael Faraday Medal by the Royal Society for the year’s most significant contribution to the public understanding of science. He is also the first recipient of the Christopher Zeeman Medal, awarded jointly by the London Mathematical Society (LMS) and the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA), for his work in promoting mathematics.

In “We Can’t Teach Students to Love Reading,” an article in the July 31, 2011 issue of The Chronicle Review, English professor Alan Jacobs says that serious “deep attention” reading has always been and will always be a minority pursuit, and that he’s not sure if deep attention to anything in particular can be taught in a straightforward way. “It may, perhaps, only arise from within, according to some inexplicable internal necessity of being,” he observes. “Some people—many people—most people—will not experience that internal necessity of being in books, in texts. But for people like Erasmus (with his ‘cry of thankful joy’ on spying a fragment of print) or Lynne Sharon Schwartz (‘Can I get back to my books now?’), books are the natural and inevitable and permanent means of being absorbed in something other than the self.”

Read Alan Jacobs’s “We Can’t Teach Students to Love Reading” in The Chronicle Review now!

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