Liberal Arts Blog — The Most Amazing Math Story Ever Told

Liberal Arts Blog — Monday is the Joy of Math, Statistics, Shapes, and Numbers Day

Today’s topic — The Most Amazing Math Story Ever Told

Tell me a math story. Not just any math story. Tell me the most amazing math story you ever heard in your life. A story that will thrill the average 5 year old but also, the ten year old, the twenty year old, and seventy year old. The problem with math education is that the most amazing math stories are not told. Now I’m not really qualified to do this myself. I will need your help. This is a big job. Think Manhattan Project. We’ll need scientists and engineers, poets and musicians, artists and athletes. We’ll need rhyming couplets, a timeless tune, and a compelling image. Today, just some raw material. The short story is that the most amazing math story ever told is the math of you — sort of a Christmas story. You know, the ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny thing (from one cell to 30 trillion in 9 months in women only), the ATP thing (each of those cells has about 1 billion molecules of ATP), the DNA thing (each one of those cells has two copies with 3.2 billion base pairs each), the Protein Thing — somewhere between 80,000 and 400,000 at last count. All those proteins with different shapes doing different things 24/7. Now put all that in your pipe and smoke it. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. Is the best hands-on way to appreciate the power of compound growth the paper folding experiment? Try folding a piece of paper in half forty times. If you could how high would it be? Can this little experiment be turned into rhyming couplets? Can it be set to music?

2. Have you ever made a hole in a piece of typing paper big enough to walk through? If not, go to the web, learn, and marvel. Let’s turn this into some rhyming couplets and put this to music.


1. Think about each cell as a living thing. How exactly did they split up and take on specialized functions?

2. How do they know exactly what to do and when to do it?

3. How do they do it so flawlessly most of the time?

NB: What’s the math of the choreography of life?


1. Humans are just the tippy tip of the iceberg of life.

2. Pig DNA is apparently 90% the same.

3. Fruit flies 51%.

NB: Cabbage 45%, Daffodil 20%.

FOOTNOTE — The Math of Chance

1. The birthday problem needs a poem and a tune.

2. Pascal’s God matrix — ditto.

3. The Drake equation too.

Last four years of posts organized thematically:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive


Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to math, statistics, or numbers in general. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to math.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. And to consolidate in your memory something you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, and art.