When you meet Jason Brown, he strikes you as more of a musician than a mathematician. With his 12-string guitar close at hand and a framed copy of an old LP he recorded in his undergraduate days, it’s hard to make the math-music connection. But his new book Our Days Are Numbered: How Mathematics Orders Our Lives is all about making those connections, in music and daily life.
“Mathematics is everywhere in our lives,” says Dr. Brown, a professor of mathematics in Dalhousie’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics. “It starts for me in the morning when I get out of bed, and it’s with me until the end of my day.”
Dr. Brown’s interest in using math to analyze music led him to write the book. His article theorizing how The Beatles played the famous opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night using mathematical principles, published in Guitar Player Magazine, unleashed a storm of interest in newspapers and on music websites around the world. It’s no wonder that a literary agent approached him soon afterwards about a book.
“Mathematics, unbeknownst to most people, is not just a left-brained activity,” explains Dr. Brown. “It’s really a beautiful mix of analysis and creativity.”
Dr. Brown uses this approach to find connections in everyday life, allowing readers to use math to solve problems or understand what’s happening around them. From how to calculate the correct tip in your head to the more complex task of deciphering fame, he shows how math connects everything.
“One of the most interesting things to me in mathematics is not to dig as deep as you can in one area. It’s much more interesting to be closer to the surface and to look for connections amongst various theories of mathematics or amongst other areas of science and the arts.”
Much of Dr. Brown’s book focuses on how people can use math to make decisions. In the case of the lottery and gambling, Dr. Brown writes:
Not all decisions are so clear cut, but from deciding on the right spouse to understanding how governments can ignore global warming, Dr. Brown’s book provides mathematical insight.
“I think the more mathematics you bring to all these endeavors and problems, the closer you will be to understanding them and finding solutions.”
Rachel MacKeigan is a public relations student at NSCC who is doing an internship with Dalhousie's Communications and Marketing office.
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