In a letter to his father in 1839, Dostoyevsky wrote that mathematics was a strange science and that is was silly to concern oneself with it. Math is esoteric and secret, perfect and elegant, and – for many of – obscure and puzzling. But reality is fundamentally mathematical. Even the ancient Greeks were aware of this and knew that formulae and theorems were essential tools for understanding the world. “Chaos”, “algorithm”, “infinity”, “numbers”, and “probability” are evocative words that are used in many fields of knowledge and whisper something into our ears even when we care little for mathematics. The books in the series explain mathematics as a sort of alphabet of the world, employ an approach combining philosophy and humanism, and shed light on the role of mathematics in the history of thought. The series offers readers a fascinating adventure leading to a better understanding of the cultural value of mathematics and its impact on civilization.
Algorithms are used with computers, and many of us feel that that is all we need to know. We can define algorithms as procedures or programmes, specifying a set of instructions to solve given problems. They have accompanied us since the dawn of civilization, helping us face small and large challenges, and revealed themselves to be extremely useful tools, especially today in conjunction with the power of computers. Even though they often fail, sometimes even their malfunctions prove helpful and unexpectedly contribute to our well-being. Algorithms’ merits are many and diverse, and the curiosity they arouse is satisfied by this informative and entertaining book.
Carlo Toffalori teaches Mathematical Logic at the University of Camerino. Since 2005 he has been the president of the Italian Association of Logic and Its Applications.