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Review – Fermat’s Last Theorem

Reading time: 8 minutes

Featured image source: Internet.

#accessibility Cover photo of Simon Singh’s The Last Theorem of Fermat. The cover is divided into three parts, the top and bottom are orange and the middle is black. In the middle there is a painting of Fermat in the center, inside a yellow triangle, among a circle with red background full of letters and numbers written in white. On the top you can read the name of the book in black and the label of the BestBolso collection, Record publisher. At the bottom is the inscription “The story of the puzzle that confused the brightest minds in the world for 358 years” in yellow and the author’s name in black.

Text written by collaborator Attalya Felix, collaborator of the Interdisciplinary Nucleus of Applied Neuroscience (Núcleo Interdisciplinar de Neurociência Aplicada)

In 324 pages, Simon Singh invite us to relive the saga of those who dared to unravel the Grail of mathematics, the Fermat’s Last Theorem. The quest for its solution has withstood the greatest names in mathematics for more than 300 years. And is in the simplicity of his proposition, that lies the greater beauty of this theorem, which can be understood by a child of ten years old. In contrast to the light feature of the charade, his solution required the effort from several generations of talented amateurs and mathematicians. And it is Singh who guides us through this journey, an adventure between celebrated mathematicians and amateurs of 16 years old, who have obtained little glories when seeing that which dedicated geniuses have let slip.

Although mathematical knowledge is not the most popular and its logic pleases only a few, Fermat’s Last Theorem is capable of seducing anyone, allowing us a glimpse inside an unachievable part of mathematics, even for academics of the area, a privilege. The techniques used for the solution of Fermat’s theorem are exposed in an intuitive way, with analogies that allow the reader unaccustomed to mathematical thinking to accompany the narration in a pleasurable way through didactic and simplified demonstrations of the challenges that mathematicians had to overcome to solve the problem, as well as appendices for those who had their mathematical curiosity aroused.

Singh takes us through the history of mathematics as if we were a wished visitor, who is greeted gently in rich mansions and small huts that remained alive in the distant memory of those who witnessed great moments and discreet joys, bringing along subtle criticisms, through those left to the shadow of history, to the old taboos still present in our society as the important contribution of women and homosexuals in their development.

Fermat’s Last Theorem, in his modesty and unpretentiousness, has not only didactic value on the history of mathematics, but is also capable of inspiring great reflections on the way we know the world. Mathematics is almost a way of rewriting the way of thinking through a language that, although universal, doesn’t have as main objective, communication, but to reveal ourselves. It is a form of knowledge that exudes much more from our cognitive architecture than from the world itself. Unlike science, where a theory can only be refuted or strengthened, but never proven, mathematics, as the clear product of our own mind, is the only form of knowledge that can be proven by itself.

We are guided by a mathematics that, although it has been used in espionage and in the study of evolution, does not bother in generating useful models for the stock market or for quantifying the decay of synapses in neurodegenerative diseases. This mathematics is only concerned with unraveling the nature of numbers. Without aspirations of utility to our progress, it reveals to us the almost sacred purity of this kind of knowledge. The mathematics described by Singh is a celebration of mastery over the technique of mind.

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Video from the channel Toda a Matemática about Fermat’s last theorem on YouTube



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