What is creativity in maths?

This is a bit of a longer article I found in + Plus Magazine:

Where were your most creative experiences at school? In art class? In music? English? In your maths lesson? That last one might not be the obvious choice for many of us, unless you were lucky enough to have a really inspiring maths teacher. But that is exactly the type of opportunity we are hoping to create for maths students aged 7-16 as part of the project, Developing Mathematical Creativity, with our sister site, NRICH.

One aspect of the project that we are particularly excited about is highlighting the role of creativity in mathematics research. All mathematicians tell us that doing original mathematics is highly creative – but what exactly do they mean by that? We asked some researchers from a range of subjects about the role of creativity in their work.

Working within constraints

We started with David Berman who has a very interesting perspective on creativity. As well as being a theoretical physicist at Queen Mary, University of London, he also has a long standing collaboration with the Turner prize winning artist, Grenville Davey. Deconstructing the artistic idea of creativity, Berman told us that rather than an unbridled release of ideas where anything is possible, beauty comes from creating work withing very tight syntactic constraints. “Think of music: the tight system of key and chord makes music very constrained and yet capable of amazing emotional power,” he said. For example Schoenberg’s* experiments with atonal music, though completely new and boundary breaking, were far from unconstrained. “Maths is like this. There are enormous syntactic constrains but still enough freedom to say something new. The beauty lies in between the constraints of syntax and the freedom of meaning.”

Continue reading…


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