“[N]umbers (and all mathematical ideas, for that matter) have lives of their own. We can’t control them. Even though they exist in our minds, once we decide what we mean by them we have no say in how they behave. They obey certain laws and have certain properties, personalities, and ways of combining with one another, and there’s nothing we can do about it except watch and try to understand. In that sense they are eerily reminiscent of atoms and stars, the things of this world, which are likewise subject to laws beyond our control … except that those things exist outside our heads.”—
Steven Strogatz, 2010
A section from the 1st of a 15-part New York Times series, The Elements of Math: Beginning with a column on why numbers are helpful, he goes on to investigate topics including negative numbers, calculus and group theory, finishing with the mysteries of infinity.