of Dr. Steven L. Berg

The Nothing That Is

I finished reading Robert Kaplan’s The Nothing That Is:  A Natural History of Zero.  It was a fascinating book–at least the portions I could understand.

As I was struggling thought the mathematical formulas in the text, I realized that I read differently than many of my students.  I am comfortable in my not understanding portions of what I read.  I realize that I do not need to understand everything; that I can take as much as I can from the text.  I can go back over passages that I do not understand at a later time.  I can do additional research on concepts I do not know.  I also know that I don’t need to understand everything I encounter.  For example, I was reading The Nothing that Is to learn more about cultural history.  The mathematical formulas were not a primary part of my research (even though I was excited by what I was able to understand; especially how we can get whole numbers out of null sets).

I think that some students might get turned off to research because they think that they need to know everything the first time they read it; something that is definitely not the case.  I really appreciated the number of literary, cultural, artistic, and other references made throughout Kaplan’s book.  But I was not bothered by the references I did not know.  Generally, I could understand his point without knowing the allusion.  But I could see how a student could become bogged down in the allusions and therefore cause a desire to set aside the book.

Anderson, Kurt.  “The Downside of Liberty.”  New York Times. (4 July 2012).

Kreider, Tim.  “The ‘Busy’ Trap.”  New York Times.  (30 June 2012).

Goldstein, Warren.  “Exam Doozies and Doubts.”  The Chronicle of Higher Education.  (18 June 2012).




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