Techniques mathematics also contributes more

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techniques. Mathematics also contributes more generally to engineering, as in describing complex systems whose behavior can then be simulated by computer. In those simulations, design features and operating conditions can be varied as a means of finding optimum designs. For its part, computer technology has opened up whole new areas in mathematics, even in the very nature of proof, and it also continues to help solve previously daunting problems. Using mathematics to express ideas or to solve problems involves at least three phases: (1) representing some aspects of things abstractly, (2) manipulating the abstractions by rules of logic to find new relationships between them, and (3) seeing whether the new relationships say something useful about the original things. 36 Physicsal Science Department
Abstraction and Symbolic Representation Mathematical thinking often begins with the process of abstraction that is, noticing a similarity between two or more objects or events. Aspects that they have in common, whether concrete or hypothetical, can be represented by symbols such as numbers, letters, other marks, diagrams, geometrical constructions, or even words. Whole numbers are abstractions that represent the size of sets of things and events or the order of things within a set. The circle as a concept is an abstraction derived from human faces, flowers, wheels, or spreading ripples; the letter A may be an abstraction for the surface area of objects of any shape, for the acceleration of all moving objects, or for all objects having some specified property; the symbol + represents a process of addition, whether one is adding apples or oranges, hours, or miles per hour. And abstractions are made not only from concrete objects or processes; they can also be made from other abstractions, such as kinds of numbers (the even numbers, for instance). 37 Physicsal Science Department
Such abstraction enables mathematicians to concentrate on some features of things and relieves them of the need to keep other features continually in mind. As far as mathematics is concerned, it does not matter whether a triangle represents the surface area of a sail or the convergence of two lines of sight on a star; mathematicians can work with either concept in the same way. The resulting economy of effort is very useful provided that in making an abstraction, care is taken not to ignore features that play a significant role in determining the outcome of the events being studied. Manipulating Mathematical Statements After abstractions have been made and symbolic representations of them have been selected, those symbols can be combined and recombined in various ways according to precisely defined rules. Sometimes that is done with a fixed goal in mind; at other times it is done in the context of experiment or play to see what happens. Sometimes an appropriate manipulation can be identified easily from the intuitive meaning of the constituent words and symbols; at other times a useful series of manipulations has to be worked out by trial and error.

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