The Mathematical Experience

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The Mathematical Experience (1981) is a book by Philip J. Davis and Reuben Hersh that discusses the practice of modern mathematics from a historical and philosophical perspective. Its first paperback edition won a U.S. National Book Award in Science.[1][a]

It is cited by some mathematicians as influential in their decision to continue their studies in graduate school; and has been hailed as a classic of mathematical literature.[2]

The Mathematical Experience attempts to describe being a mathematician, in light of the history and philosophy of mathematics. It focuses on proof, without going full details. It gives examples of some famous proofs, as well as outstanding problems of mathematics (such as the Riemann hypothesis); and goes on to speculate on what a proof really means, in relationship to actual truth.

Other topics include mathematics in education and some computer mathematics. Martin Gardner disagreed with some of the authors' philosophical opinions.[3]

A new edition, published in 1998, includes exercises and problems, making the book more suitable for classrooms. There is also The Companion Guide to The Mathematical Experience, Study Edition. Both were co-authored with Elena A. Marchisotto.

The authors wrote a follow-up book, Descartes' Dream: The World According to Mathematics (Harcourt, 1986), and each has written other books with related themes, such as Mathematics And Common Sense: A Case of Creative Tension by Davis and What is Mathematics, Really? by Hersh.


  1. ^ This was the 1983 award for paperback Science.
    From 1980 to 1983 in National Book Award history there were dual hardcover and paperback awards in most categories, and several nonfiction subcategories including General Nonfiction. Most of the paperback award-winners were reprints, including this one.


  1. ^ "National Book Awards – 1983". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-07.
  2. ^ jkauzlar (perhaps James Joseph Kauzlarich?) (18 September 2002). " Tools for Online Mathematics". Archived from the original on 2006-10-022. One of the classics of mathematical literature,The Mathematical Experience, by Philip J Davis and Rueben Hersh, remains pertinent and fulfills its lofty ambitions even 20 years past its 1981 publication.  Check date values in: |archive-date= (help)
  3. ^ Gardner, Martin (August 13, 1981). "Is Mathematics for Real?". New York Review of Books: 37–40. 

External links[edit]

At Wikiversity, you can learn
more and teach others about The Mathematical Experience at the School of The Mathematical Experience.