“The public image of maths as incomprehen-sible is only part of the story… Some of the hardest problems are the most simply stated”
© Peter M. Fisher/Corbis
Our cultural relationship with the world of mathematics is mythologised like no other academic discipline. While the natural sciences are seen to keep some roots planted in the soil of daily life, in inventions and cures and catastrophes, maths seems to float freely in an abstract realm of numbers, as much an art as a science. More than any white-coated boffin, its proponents are viewed as unworldly, with minds unfathomably different from ours. We revel in stories of lone geniuses who crack the most refractory problems yet reject status, prizes and even academic tenure. Maths is not just a foreign country but an alien planet.