Music to our ears

All math teachers and mathematicians love music, but not all musicians love math.

That has been my experience, at any rate, based on a fairly large sample.

Recently I listened to a Freakonomics episode featuring British mathematician Sarah Hart, in the first half of which she gives an exceptionally clear explanation of why Pythagoras was right: small whole numbers do sound best. Of course you need to know what that could possibly mean—how do numbers “sound” good?—so you will just have to listen to the episode. Do so!

The second half of the episode is about gender and math, in which Hart and host Steven Levitt explore the well-known gender gap in mathematics, so listen to that as well. Hart knows whereof she speaks, being one of the relatively few female mathematicians in Britain.

Unfortunately Levitt is a proponent of remote learning. He claims that since Hart is such a good lecturer, students should listen to her remote recorded lectures rather than their own teachers’ lectures; their own teachers would then be relegated to some other (unspecified) role. But we know from last year’s experiences that that just won’t work. As Scott Newstok observes, teaching is an interactive process in which the learner is not a passive participant. Recorded lectures are not the same thing as teaching.

So I conclude that Hart is impressive, Levitt not so much.

Categories: Math