On the utility of applied mathematics

From one of my favorite novels, which has the great Soviet mathematician and economics Nobelist Leonid Kantorovich as one of the lead characters.

It was a pleasure to put the lucid order in his [Kantorovich’s] head to use. More than a pleasure, a relief almost, because every time the pure pattern of mathematics turned out to have a purchase on the way the world worked, turned out to provide the secret thread controlling something loud and various and apparently arbitrary, it provided one more quantum of confirmation for what Leonid Vitalevich wanted to believe, needed to believe, did believe when he was happy: that all of this, this swirl of phenomena lurching on through time, this mess of interlocked systems, some filigree-fine, some huge and simple, this tram full of strangers and smoky air, this city of Peter built on human bones, all ultimately made sense, were all intricately generated by some intelligeble principle or set of principles working themselves out on many levels at once, even if the expressions didn’t exist yet which could capture much of the process.

Francis Spufford, “Red Plenty”

Author: Abhijnan Rej

Scientist, researcher, and writer

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