Mathematics out loud


 

We are used to reading mathematics, we are also used to hearing it spoken in lectures. I can think of few examples of the natural way to combine these. Why do we never read mathematics out loud? There are some good reasons for this, much of the symbology of mathematics was developed as visual and so has only a bad translation into speech. More importantly mathematical reading is very rarely linear, we step back from a theorem to a definition only partly remembered, jump forward to look at the corollaries before diving into the proof.

Yet speaking words has a power that simply observing them in your head cannot. I tried for years to enjoy Paradise Lost yet got nothing from it, until I heard a comment from Phillip Pullman that it needed to be read out loud, and its beauty opened up to me. Why can’t mathematics benefit from this? We have our share of great writers, Donald Coxeter, Tim Gowers, Donald Knuth, Douglas Hofstadter, Rudy Rucker, indeed John Conway‘s papers are often created by writing down his spoken words. I am of course obliged to mention Lewis Carroll and Martin Gardner.

Many people, myself included, are interested in how art can be used as path into mathematics. The visual arts and music are well represented, even mathematical symbols have been considered for their aesthetic qualities. Writing feels relatively neglected, yet is intrinsic to the actual practice of mathematics. So I have a question:

What mathematics would you choose to read out loud?

I am especially interested in passages that work when read, even though they are written for a mathematical audience. The more esoteric the better.

If we can find some great ones, then perhaps we could even persuade someone with performance skills, who is also interested in mathematics, to read them out. Yes Vi Hart I am looking at you!

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