Mathematics is the science and study of quantity, structure, space, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns, formulate new conjectures, and establish truth by rigorous deduction from appropriately chosen axioms and definitions.
There is debate over whether mathematical objects such as numbers and points exist naturally or are human creations. The mathematician Benjamin Peirce called mathematics “the science that draws necessary conclusions”. Albert Einstein, on the other hand, stated that “as far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
Through the use of abstraction and logical reasoning, mathematics evolved from counting, calculation, measurement, and the systematic study of the shapes and motions of physical objects. Practical mathematics has been a human activity for as far back as written records exist. Rigorous arguments first appeared in Greek mathematics, most notably in Euclid’s Elements. Mathematics continued to develop, in fitful bursts, until the Renaissance, when mathematical innovations interacted with new scientific discoveries, leading to an acceleration in research that continues to the present day.
Today, mathematics is used throughout the world as an essential tool in many fields, including natural science, engineering, medicine, and the social sciences. Applied mathematics, the branch of mathematics concerned with application of mathematical knowledge to other fields, inspires and makes use of new mathematical discoveries and sometimes leads to the development of entirely new disciplines. Mathematicians also engage in pure mathematics, or mathematics for its own sake, without having any application in mind, although practical applications for what began as pure mathematics are often discovered later.
The evolution of mathematics might be seen as an ever-increasing series of abstractions, or alternatively an expansion of subject matter. The first abstraction, which is shared by many animals, was probably that of numbers: the realization that two apples and two oranges (for example) have something in common.
In addition to recognizing how to count physical objects, prehistoric peoples also recognized how to count abstract quantities, like time – days, seasons, years. Elementary arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) naturally followed.
Further steps needed writing or some other system for recording numbers such as tallies or the knotted strings called quipu used by the Inca to store numerical data. Numeral systems have been many and diverse, with the first known written numerals created by Egyptians in Middle Kingdom texts such as the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus. The Indus Valley civilization developed the modern decimal system, including the concept of zero.
The earliest uses of mathematics were in trading, land measurement, painting and weaving patterns and the recording of time and nothing much more advanced until around 3000BC onwards when the Babylonians and Egyptians began using arithmetic, algebra and geometry for taxation and other financial calculations, building and construction and astronomy. The systematic study of mathematics in its own right began with the Ancient Greeks between 600 and 300BC.
Mathematics has since been greatly extended, and there has been a fruitful interaction between mathematics and science, to the benefit of both. Mathematical discoveries have been made throughout history and continue to be made today. According to Mikhail B. Sevryuk, in the January 2006 issue of the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, “The number of papers and books included in the Mathematical Reviews database since 1940 (the first year of operation of MR) is now more than 1.9 million, and more than 75 thousand items are added to the database each year. The overwhelming majority of works in this ocean contain new mathematical theorems and their proofs.”
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