Perspectives on mathematics

It’s not enough to be good at calculation to successfully complete the master’s programme in the mathematical sciences. Since 2013, parts of the programme have also included required philosophy and history classes.
‘The aim is to provide a historical, cultural and philosophical perspective on mathematics’, says instructor and mathematician Ulf Persson.

The course Perspectives on Mathematics runs parallel with other courses throughout the autumn semester. It mostly follows chronological order, starting with the ancient Greeks, and deals with both mathematicians of antiquity, including Euclid and Archimedes, and the more modern Newton, Euler and Gauss. Persson puts great emphasis on describing the historical context and engaging in dialogue with the students.
‘I am struck by how little they know about history, and for that reason alone, I find that the course has an important mission of broadening the mind.’

Much of the course is based on encouraging students to contemplate and discuss the objectives and purposes of mathematics and its relationship to the natural sciences. Persson stresses that whether the course will be rewarding largely depends on the students’ own commitment and willingness to take part in class discussions. The fact that the programme is international and the course is in English can sometimes inhibit students in discussing issues.

It is, however, apparent that this type of course is important. Certainly, the teacher believes this: ’I think there’s a definite need to allow opportunities for wide-ranging reflection among students, especially when courses tend to be so specialised.