How Mathematics Changed Alec Wilkinson

The New Yorker recently published this wonderful piece by Alec Wilkinson. Wilkinson, who also published a book about his Johnny-come-lately (but enthusiastically!) experience studying math in his sixties titled A Divine Language: Learning Algebra, Geometry, and Calculus at the Edge of Old Age, writes beautifully about how math changed his worldview and bettered his daily life. While I’m fairly certain I’ll never share Wilkinson’s fervor for the subject at hand, I do connect to the idea that seeking out something to tackle with the mindset of a humble student, especially during a big life transition, can be tremendously rewarding, and if you’re lucky, life-changing.

Five years ago, when I was sixty-five, I decided to study adolescent mathematics, because my first encounter with it had left me feeling stupid and defeated. Also unsettled, privately, about my fitness for a successful life, since I hadn’t ever lost so profoundly to anything like I lost to math. It led me to wonder how many more losses might await me and how many might result from similar, not-yet-come-upon insufficiencies.


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