Mathematics for the Nonmathematician

Mathematics for the Nonmathematician

by Morris Kline


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Practical, scientific, philosophical, and artistic problems have caused men to investigate mathematics. But there is one other motive which is as strong as any of these — the search for beauty. Mathematics is an art, and as such affords the pleasures which all the arts afford." In this erudite, entertaining college-level text, Morris Kline, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at New York University, provides the liberal arts student with a detailed treatment of mathematics in a cultural and historical context. The book can also act as a self-study vehicle for advanced high school students and laymen.
Professor Kline begins with an overview, tracing the development of mathematics to the ancient Greeks, and following its evolution through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance to the present day. Subsequent chapters focus on specific subject areas, such as "Logic and Mathematics," "Number: The Fundamental Concept," "Parametric Equations and Curvilinear Motion," "The Differential Calculus," and "The Theory of Probability." Each of these sections offers a step-by-step explanation of concepts and then tests the student's understanding with exercises and problems. At the same time, these concepts are linked to pure and applied science, engineering, philosophy, the social sciences or even the arts.
In one section, Professor Kline discusses non-Euclidean geometry, ranking it with evolution as one of the "two concepts which have most profoundly revolutionized our intellectual development since the nineteenth century." His lucid treatment of this difficult subject starts in the 1800s with the pioneering work of Gauss, Lobachevsky, Bolyai and Riemann, and moves forward to the theory of relativity, explaining the mathematical, scientific and philosophical aspects of this pivotal breakthrough. Mathematics for the Nonmathematician exemplifies Morris Kline's rare ability to simplify complex subjects for the nonspecialist.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486248233
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 02/01/1985
Series: Dover Books on Mathematics Series
Pages: 672
Sales rank: 115,716
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

Morris Kline: Mathematics for the Masses
Morris Kline (1908–1992) had a strong and forceful personality which he brought both to his position as Professor at New York University from 1952 until his retirement in 1975, and to his role as the driving force behind Dover's mathematics reprint program for even longer, from the 1950s until just a few years before his death. Professor Kline was the main reviewer of books in mathematics during those years, filling many file drawers with incisive, perceptive, and always handwritten comments and recommendations, pro or con. It was inevitable that he would imbue the Dover math program ― which he did so much to launch ― with his personal point of view that what mattered most was the quality of the books that were selected for reprinting and the point of view that stressed the importance of applications and the usefulness of mathematics. He urged that books should concentrate on demonstrating how mathematics could be used to solve problems in the real world, not solely for the creation of intellectual structures of theoretical interest to mathematicians only.

Morris Kline was the author or editor of more than a dozen books, including Mathematics in Western Culture (Oxford, 1953), Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty (Oxford, 1980), and Mathematics and the Search for Knowledge (Oxford, 1985). His Calculus, An Intuitive and Physical Approach, first published in 1967 and reprinted by Dover in 1998, remains a widely used text, especially by readers interested in taking on the sometimes daunting task of studying the subject on their own. His 1985 Dover book, Mathematics for the Nonmathematician could reasonably be regarded as the ultimate math for liberal arts text and may have reached more readers over its long life than any other similarly directed text.

In the Author's Own Words:
"Mathematics is the key to understanding and mastering our physical, social and biological worlds."

"Logic is the art of going wrong with confidence."

"Statistics: the mathematical theory of ignorance."

"A proof tells us where to concentrate our doubts." ― Morris Kline

Read an Excerpt

Mathematics for the Nonmathematician

By Morris Kline

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1967 Morris Kline
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-31613-0



In mathematics I can report no deficience, except it be that men do not sufficiently understand the excellent use of the Pure Mathematics....


One can wisely doubt whether the study of mathematics is worth while and can find good authority to support him. As far back as about the year 400 A.D., St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in Africa and one of the great fathers of Christianity, had this to say:

The good Christian should beware of mathematicians and all those who make empty prophecies. The danger already exists that the mathematicians have made a covenant with the devil to darken the spirit and to confine man in the bonds of Hell.

Perhaps St. Augustine, with prophetic insight into the conflicts which were to arise later between the mathematically minded scientists of recent centuries and religious leaders, was seeking to discourage the further development of the subject. At any rate there is no question as to his attitude.

At about the same time that St. Augustine lived, the Roman jurists ruled, under the Code of Mathematicians and Evil-Doers, that "to learn the art of geometry and to take part in public exercises, an art as damnable as mathematics, are forbidden."

Even the distinguished seventeenth-century contributor to mathematics, Blaise Pascal, decided after studying mankind that the pure sciences were not suited to it. In a letter to Fermat written on August 10, 1660, Pascal says: "To speak freely of mathematics, I find it the highest exercise of the spirit; but at the same time I know that it is so useless that I make little distinction between a man who is only a mathematician and a common artisan. Also, I call it the most beautiful profession in the world; but it is only a profession; and I have often said that it is good to make the attempt [to study mathematics], but not to use our forces: so that I would not take two steps for mathematics, and I am confident that you are strongly of my opinion." Pascal's famous injunction was, "Humble thyself, impotent reason."

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who despised mathematics, said many nasty things about the subject, among others that the lowest activity of the spirit is arithmetic, as is shown by the fact that it can be performed by a machine. Many other great men, for example, the poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe and the historian Edward Gibbon, have felt likewise and have not hesitated to express themselves. And so the student who dislikes the subject can claim to be in good, if not living, company.

In view of the support he can muster from authorities, the student may well inquire why he is asked to learn mathematics. Is it because Plato, some 2300 years ago, advocated mathematics to train the mind for philosophy? Is it because the Church in medieval times taught mathematics as a preparation for theological reasoning? Or is it because the commercial, industrial, and scientific life of the Western world needs mathematics so much? Perhaps the subject got into the curriculum by mistake, and no one has taken the trouble to throw it out. Certainly the student is justified in asking his teacher the very question which Mephistopheles put to Faust:

Is it right, I ask, is it even prudence, To bore thyself and bore the students?

Perhaps we should begin our answers to these questions by pointing out that the men we cited as disliking or disapproving of mathematics were really exceptional. In the great periods of culture which preceded the present one, almost all educated people valued mathematics. The Greeks, who created the modern concept of mathematics, spoke unequivocally for its importance. During the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance, mathematics was never challenged as one of the most important studies. The seventeenth century was aglow not only with mathematical activity but with popular interest in the subject. We have the instance of Samuel Pepys, so much attracted by the rapidly expanding influence of mathematics that at the age of thirty he could no longer tolerate his own ignorance and begged to learn the subject. He began, incidentally, with the multiplication table, which he subsequently taught to his wife. In 1681 Pepys was elected president of the Royal Society, a post later held by Isaac Newton.

In perusing eighteenth-century literature, one is struck by the fact that the journals which were on the level of our Harper's and the Atlantic Monthly contained mathematical articles side by side with literary articles. The educated man and woman of the eighteenth century knew the mathematics of their day, felt obliged to be au courant with all important scientific developments, and read articles on them much as modern man reads articles on politics. These people were as much at home with Newton's mathematics and physics as with Pope's poetry.

The vastly increased importance of mathematics in our time makes it all the more imperative that the modern person know something of the nature and role of mathematics. It is true that the role of mathematics in our civilization is not always obvious, and the deeper and more complex modern applications are not readily comprehended even by specialists. But the essential nature and accomplishments of the subject can still be understood.

Perhaps we can see more easily why one should study mathematics if we take a moment to consider what mathematics is. Unfortunately the answer cannot be given in a single sentence or a single chapter. The subject has many facets or, some might say, is Hydra- headed. One can look at mathematics as a language, as a particular kind of logical structure, as a body of knowledge about number and space, as a series of methods for deriving conclusions, as the essence of our knowledge of the physical world, or merely as an amusing intellectual activity. Each of these features would in itself be difficult to describe accurately in a brief space.

Because it is impossible to give a concise and readily understandable definition of mathematics, some writers have suggested, rather evasively, that mathematics is what mathematicians do. But mathematicians are human beings, and most of the things they do are uninteresting and some, embarrassing to relate. The only merit in this proposed definition of mathematics is that it points up the fact that mathematics is a human creation.

A variation on the above definition which promises more help in understanding the nature, content, and values of mathematics, is that mathematics is what mathematics does. If we examine mathematics from the standpoint of what it is intended to and does accomplish, we shall undoubtedly gain a truer and clearer picture of the subject.

Mathematics is concerned primarily with what can be accomplished by reasoning. And here we face the first hurdle. Why should one reason? It is not a natural activity for the human animal. It is clear that one does not need reasoning to learn how to eat or to discover what foods maintain life. Man knew how to feed, clothe, and house himself millenniums before mathematics existed. Getting along with the opposite sex is an art rather than a science mastered by reasoning. One can engage in a multitude of occupations and even climb high in the business and industrial world without much use of reasoning and certainly without mathematics. One's social position is hardly elevated by a display of his knowledge of trigonometry. In fact, civilizations in which reasoning and mathematics played no role have endured and even flourished. If one were willing to reason, he could readily supply evidence to prove that reasoning is a dispensable activity.

Those who are opposed to reasoning will readily point out other methods of obtaining knowledge. Most people are in fact convinced that their senses are really more than adequate. The very common assertion "seeing is believing" expresses the common reliance upon the senses. But everyone should recognize that the senses are limited and often fallible and, even where accurate, must be interpreted. Let us consider, as an example, the sense of sight. How big is the sun? Our eyes tell us that it is about as large as a rubber ball. This then is what we should believe. On the other hand, we do not see the air around us, nor for that matter can we feel, touch, smell, or taste it. Hence we should not believe in the existence of air.

To consider a somewhat more complicated situation, suppose a teacher should hold up a fountain pen and ask, What is it? A student coming from some primitive society might call it a shiny stick, and indeed this is what the eyes see. Those who call it a fountain pen are really calling upon education and experience stored in their minds. Likewise, when we look at a tall building from a distance, it is experience which tells us that the building is tall. Hence the old saying that "we are prone to see what lies behind our eyes, rather than what appears before them."

Every day we see the sun where it is not. For about five minutes before what we call sunset, the sun is actually below the geometrical horizon and should therefore be invisible. But the rays of light from the sun curve toward us as they travel in the earth's atmosphere, and the observer at P (Fig. 1–1) not only "sees" the sun but thinks the light is coming from the direction O'P. Hence he believes the sun is in that direction.

The senses are obviously helpless in obtaining some kinds of knowledge, such as the distance to the sun, the size of the earth, the speed of a bullet (unless one wishes to feel its velocity), the temperature of the sun, the prediction of eclipses, and dozens of other facts.

If the senses are inadequate, what about experimentation or, in simple cases, measurement? One can and in fact does learn a great deal by such means. But suppose one wants to find a very simple quantity, the area of a rectangle. To obtain it by measurement, one could lay off unit squares to cover the area and then count the number of squares. It is at least a little simpler to measure the lengths of the sides and then use a formula obtained by reasoning, namely, that the area is the product of length and width. In the only slightly more complicated problem of determining how high a projectile will go, we should certainly not consider traveling with the projectile.

As to experimentation, let us consider a relatively simple problem of modern technology. One wishes to build a bridge across a river. How long and how thick should the many beams be? What shape should the bridge take? If it is to be supported by cables, how long and how thick should these be? Of course one could arbitrarily choose a number of lengths and thicknesses for the beams and cables and build the bridge. In this event, it would only be fair that the experimenter be the first to cross this bridge.

It may be clear from this brief discussion that the senses, measurement, and experimentation, to consider three alternative ways of acquiring knowledge, are by no means adequate in a variety of situations. Reasoning is essential. The lawyer, the doctor, the scientist, and the engineer employ reasoning daily to derive knowledge that would otherwise not be obtainable or perhaps obtainable only at great expense and effort. Mathematics more than any other human endeavor relies upon reasoning to produce knowledge.

One may be willing to accept the fact that mathematical reasoning is an effective procedure. But just what does mathematics seek to accomplish with its reasoning? The primary objective of all mathematical work is to help man study nature, and in this endeavor mathematics cooperates with science. It may seem, then, that mathematics is merely a useful tool and that the real pursuit is science. We shall not attempt at this stage to separate the roles of mathematics and science and to evaluate the relative merits of their contributions. We shall simply state that their methods are different and that mathematics is at least an equal partner with science.

We shall see later how observations of nature are framed in statements called axioms. Mathematics then discloses by reasoning secrets which nature may never have intended to reveal. The determination of the pattern of motion of celestial bodies, the discovery and control of radio waves, the understanding of molecular, atomic, and nuclear structures, and the creation of artificial satellites are a few basically mathematical achievements. Mathematical formulation of physical data and mathematical methods of deriving new conclusions are today the substratum in all investigations of nature.

The fact that mathematics is of central importance in the study of nature reveals almost immediately several values of this subject. The first is the practical value. The construction of bridges and skyscrapers, the harnessing of the power of water, coal, electricity, and the atom, the effective employment of light, sound, and radio in illumination, communication, navigation, and even entertainment, and the advantageous employment of chemical knowledge in the design of materials, in the production of useful forms of oil, and in medicine are but a few of the practical achievements already attained. And the future promises to dwarf the past.

However, material progress is not the most compelling reason for the study of nature, nor have practical results usually come about from investigations so directed. In fact, to overemphasize practical values is to lose sight of the greater significance of human thought. The deeper reason for the study of nature is to try to understand the ways of nature, that is, to satisfy sheer intellectual curiosity. Indeed, to ask disinterested questions about nature is one of the distinguishing marks of mankind. In all civilizations some people at least have tried to answer such questions as: How did the universe come about? How old is the universe and the earth in particular? How large are the sun and the earth? Is man an accident or part of a larger design? Will the solar system continue to function or will the earth some day fall into the sun? What is light? Of course, not all people are interested in such questions. Food, shelter, sex, and television are enough to keep many happy. But others, aware of the pervasive natural mysteries, are more strongly obsessed to resolve them than any business man is to acquire wealth and power.

Beyond improvement in the material life of man and beyond satisfaction of intellectual curiosity, the study of nature offers intangible values of another sort, especially the abolition of fear and terror and their replacement by a deep, quiet satisfaction in the ways of nature. To the uneducated and to those uninitiated in the world of science, many manifestations of nature have appeared to be agents of destruction sent by angry gods. Some of the beliefs in ancient and even medieval Europe may be of special interest in view of what happened later. The sun was the center of all life. As winter neared and the days became shorter, the people believed that a battle between the gods of light and darkness was taking place. Thus the god Wodan was supposed to be riding through heaven on a white horse followed by demons, all of whom sought every opportunity to harm people. When, however, the days began to lengthen and the sun began to show itself higher in the sky each day, the people believed that the gods of light had won. They ceased all work and celebrated this victory. Sacrifices were offered to the benign gods. Symbols of fertility such as fruit and nuts, whose growth is, of course, aided by the sun, were placed on the altars. To symbolize further the desire for light and the joy in light, a huge log was placed in the fire to burn for twelve days, and candles were lit to heighten the brightness.

The beliefs and superstitions which have been attached to events we take in stride are incredible to modern man. An eclipse of the sun, a threat to the continuance of the light and heat which causes crops to grow, meant that the heavenly body was being swallowed up by a dragon. Many Hindu people believe today that a demon residing in the sky attacks the sun once in a while and that this is what causes the eclipse. Of course, when prayers, sacrifices, and ceremonies were followed by the victory of the sun or moon, it was clear that these rituals were the effective agent and so had to be pursued on every such occasion. In addition, special magic potions drunk during eclipses insured health, happiness, and wisdom.

To primitive peoples of the past, thunder, lightning, and storms were punishments visited by the gods on people who had apparently sinned in some way. The stories in the Old Testament of the flood and of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire and brimstone are examples of such acts of wrath by the God of the Hebrews. Hence there was continual concern and even dread about what the gods might have in mind for helpless humans. The only recourse was to propitiate the divine powers, so that they would bring good fortune instead of evil.


Excerpted from Mathematics for the Nonmathematician by Morris Kline. Copyright © 1967 Morris Kline. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1 Why Mathematics?
2 A Historical Orientation
2-1 Introduction
2-2 Mathematics in early civilizations
2-3 The classical Greek period
2-4 The Alexandrian Greek period
2-5 The Hindus and Arabs
2-6 Early and medieval Europe
2-7 The Renaissance
2-8 Developments from 1550 to 1800
2-9 Developments from 1800 to the present
2-10 The human aspect of mathematics
3 Logic and Mathematics
3-1 Introduction
3-2 The concepts of mathematics
3-3 Idealization
3-4 Methods of reasoning
3-5 Mathematical proof
3-6 Axioms and definitions
3-7 The creation of mathematics
4 Number: the Fundamental Concept
4-1 Introduction
4-2 Whole numbers and fractions
4-3 Irrational numbers
4-4 Negative numbers
4-5 The axioms concerning numbers
* 4-6 Applications of the number system
5 "Algebra, the Higher Arithmetic"
5-1 Introduction
5-2 The language of algebra
5-3 Exponents
5-4 Algebraic transformations
5-5 Equations involving unknowns
5-6 The general second-degree equation
* 5-7 The history of equations of higher degree
6 The Nature and Uses of Euclidean Geometry
6-1 The beginnings of geometry
6-2 The content of Euclidean geometry
6-3 Some mundane uses of Euclidean geometry
* 6-4 Euclidean geometry and the study of light
6-5 Conic sections
* 6-6 Conic sections and light
* 6-7 The cultural influence of Euclidean geometry
7 Charting the Earth and Heavens
7-1 The Alexandrian world
7-2 Basic concepts of trigonometry
7-3 Some mundane uses of trigonometric ratios
* 7-4 Charting the earth
* 7-5 Charting the heavens
* 7-6 Further progress in the study of light
8 The Mathematical Order of Nature
8-1 The Greek concept of nature
8-2 Pre-Greek and Greek views of nature
8-3 Greek astronomical theories
8-4 The evidence for the mathematical design of nature
8-5 The destruction of the Greek world
* 9 The Awakening of Europe
9-1 The medieval civilization of Europe
9-2 Mathematics in the medieval period
9-3 Revolutionary influences in Europe
9-4 New doctrines of the Renaissance
9-5 The religious motivation in the study of nature
* 10 Mathematics and Painting in the Renaissance
10-1 Introduction
10-2 Gropings toward a scientific system of perspective
10-3 Realism leads to mathematics
10-4 The basic idea of mathematical perspective
10-5 Some mathematical theorems on perspective drawing
10-6 Renaissance paintings employing mathematical perspective
10-7 Other values of mathematical perspective
11 Projective Geometry
11-1 The problem suggested by projection and section
11-2 The work of Desargues
11-3 The work of Pascal
11-4 The principle of duality
11-5 The relationship between projective and Euclidean geometries
12 Coordinate Geometry
12-1 Descartes and Fermat
12-2 The need for new methods in geometry
12-3 The concepts of equation and curve
12-4 The parabola
12-5 Finding a curve from its equation
12-6 The ellipse
* 12-7 The equations of surfaces
* 12-8 Four-dimensional geometry
12-9 Summary
13 The Simplest Formulas in Action
13-1 Mastery of nature
13-2 The search for scientific method
13-3 The scientific method of Galileo
13-4 Functions and formulas
13-5 The formulas describing the motion of dropped objects
13-6 The formulas describing the motion of objects thrown downward
13-7 Formulas for the motion of bodies projected upward
14 Parametric Equations and Curvillinear Motion
14-1 Introduction
14-2 The concept of parametric equations
14-3 The motion of a projectile dropped from an airplane
14-4 The motion of projectiles launched by cannons
* 14-5 The motion of projectiles fired at an arbitrary angle
14-6 Summary
15 The Application of Formulas to Gravitation
15-1 The revolution in astronomy
15-2 The objections to a heliocentric theory
15-3 The arguments for the heliocentric theory
15-4 The problem of relating earthly and heavenly motions
15-5 A sketch of Newton's life
15-6 Newton's key idea
15-7 Mass and weight
15-8 The law of gravitation
15-9 Further discussion of mass and weight
15-10 Some deductions from the law of gravitation
* 15-11 The rotation of the earth
* 15-12 Gravitation and the Keplerian laws
* 15-13 Implications of the theory of gravitation
* 16 The Differential Calculus
16-1 Introduction
16-2 The problem leading to the calculus
16-3 The concept of instantaneous rate of change
16-4 The concept of instantaneous speed
16-5 The method of increments
16-6 The method of increments applied to general functions
16-7 The geometrical meaning of the derivative
16-8 The maximum and minimum values of functions
* 17 The Integral Calculus
17-1 Differential and integral calculus compared
17-2 Finding the formula from the given rate of change
17-3 Applications to problems of motion
17-4 Areas obtained by integration
17-5 The calculation of work
17-6 The calculation of escape velocity
17-7 The integral as the limit of a sum
17-8 Some relevant history of the limit concept
17-9 The Age of Reason
18 Trigonometric Functions and Oscillatory Motion
18-1 Introduction
18-2 The motion of a bob on a spring
18-3 The sinusoidal functions
18-4 Acceleration in sinusoidal motion
18-5 The mathematical analysis of the motion of the bob
18-6 Summary
* 19 The Trigonometric Analysis of Musical Sounds
19-1 Introduction
19-2 The nature of simple sounds
19-3 The method of addition of ordinates
19-4 The analysis of complex sounds
19-5 Subjective properties of musical sounds
20 Non-Euclidean Geometries and Their Significance
20-1 Introduction
20-2 The historical background
20-3 The mathematical content of Gauss's non-Euclidean geometry
20-4 Riemann's non-Euclidean geometry
20-5 The applicability of non-Euclidean geometry
20-6 The applicability of non-Euclidean geometry under a new interpretation of line
20-7 Non-Euclidean geometry and the nature of mathematics
20-8 The implications of non-Euclidean geometry for other branches of our culture
21 Arithmetics and Their Algebras
21-1 Introduction
21-2 The applicability of the real number system
21-3 Baseball arithmetic
21-4 Modular arithmetics and their algebras
21-5 The algebra of sets
21-6 Mathematics and models
* 22 The Statistical Approach to the Social and Biological Sciences
22-1 Introduction
22-2 A brief historical review
22-3 Averages
22-4 Dispersion
22-5 The graph and normal curve
22-6 Fitting a formula to data
22-7 Correlation
22-8 Cautions concerning the uses of statistics
* 23 The Theory of Probability
23-1 Introduction
23-2 Probability for equally likely outcomes
23-3 Probability as relative frequency
23-4 Probability in continuous variation
23-5 Binomial distributions
23-6 The problems of sampling
24 The Nature and Values of Mathem
24-4 The aesthetic and intellectual values
24-5 Mathematics and rationalism
24-6 The limitations of mathematics
Table of Trigonometric Ratios
Answers to Selected and Review Exercises
Additional Answers and Solutions

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Mathematics for the Nonmathematician 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
yapete on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An engaging discussion of many areas of mathematics for the mathematically interested, but not necessarily initiated reader. Many fun anecdotes, examples and applications. Also a great tool for teaching mathematics.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is simply a great book, even for the mathematically inclined. It's a bit dated, especially in its treatment of 'barbarian' (i.e., non-Greek) civilizations, but its treatment of math is well worth a grain of salt.