fuzzy math

The Ten Most Ridiculous-Sounding Math Classes Currently Offered at Liberal-Arts Colleges

Every year, liberal-arts majors anxiously scour their college’s course listings looking for classes that will fulfill their math requirement but aren’t so, you know, math-y. Here’s what they’re signed up for this year.

10. Topology: The Nature of Shape and Space: “In geometry we ask: How big is it? How long is it? But in topology we ask: Is it connected? Is it compact? Does it have holes?” [Sarah Lawrence]

9. The Mathematics of Chance: “Most topics are introduced in a case-study fashion, usually by reading an article in a current periodical such as the New York Times.” [Bard]

8. Mathematics in Many Cultures: “Mathematical ideas are found in many cultures, among both literate and non-literate peoples. This course examines both mathematics and the role it plays in the cultures. Examples chosen from the mathematical ideas of present-day peoples of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas, as well as historic Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Islam and China.” [Pomona]

7. The Magic of Numbers: “This course will explore the beauty and mystery of mathematics through a study of the patterns and properties of the natural numbers 1, 2, [and] 3.” [Harvard]

6. Models of Life: “In particular, we will ask such questions as: How do you model the growth of a population of animals? How can you model the growth of a tree? How do sunflowers and seashells grow?” [Kenyon]

5. Mathematical Origamist’s Toolkit: “Topics include modular origami and how this models the creation of polyhedra and coloring of graphs, comparison of origami-axiomatic constructions to straight-edge and compass constructions, the combinatorics of possible crease patterns, the mathematics of origami design (circle packing, optimization), matrix models for paperfolding, spherical geometry, Descartes’ Theorem, and Gaussian curvature.” [Hampshire]

4. Mathematics and Narrative: “Many literary works (Arcadia, Proof, and Uncle Petros and the Goldbach Conjecture) use mathematics as an integral part of their narrative. Movie and television narratives such as Good Will Hunting and Numb3rs are also mathematically based. Nonfiction works about mathematics and mathematical biographies like Chaos, Fermat’s Enigma, and A Beautiful Mind provide further examples of the connection between mathematics and narrative. ” [Vassar]

3. Borges and Mathematics: “Jorge Luis Borges was one of the most important writers of the 20th century. Many of his short stories and essays were concerned with philosophical, metaphysical, and mathematical questions. The thesis motivating this course is that if we know the mathematics that Borges referred to, then we will read him differently, and we will read him better.” [Bennington]

2. Mathematics and Science as Art in Contemporary Theatre: “Playwrights such as Tom Stoppard, Rinne Groff, Michael Frayn, and others have effectively explored mathematical and scientific themes for artistic purposes. Through readings and exercises, and by conducting labs and staging scenes, this class will gain some first-hand insight into the complementary ways in which science and art aim to seek out their respective truths.” [Middlebury]

1. Meaning, Math, And Motion: “Quoting a charming articulation by Kinsman (a mathematician-turned-oceanographer, in the preface to Wind Waves): ‘To the beginner, science is a conversation that has been in progress for a very long time.’ Our collective work is to catch up on the conversation.” [Evergreen]

This is why Asia is winning, by the way.

The Ten Most Ridiculous-Sounding Math Classes Currently Offered at Liberal-Arts Colleges