Preface: Thinking Of Mathematics

In early January 2007, I received a request from Chandler Davis on behalf of the Math Intelligencer inviting me to write an article describing what it is like to be a mathematician who cannot see. Personally, I had never spent time conciously thinking of the differences that arise from not being able to see, and consequently, writing this article proved an intellectually stimulating exercise. The result is what you see on this Web site.

The title Thinking Of Mathematics was inspired by Brian Hayes choice of title for his article describing my PhD work — Speaking Of Mathematics — which to this date remains the best description of my graduate work on Audio System For Technical Readings (AsTeR). While getting ready to write this article, I was lucky to attend an excellent talk on creativity by Murray Gell-Mann at Google; his talk helped me crystalize the thoughts for this essay into a coherent framework.

Thinking Of Mathematics (HTML) Thinking Of Mathematics (PDF)

The article was completed by my personal deadline of April 15, 2007. After sending the draft to the Math Intelligencer for editorial review, I received a bunch of questions from their editor that I have attempted to answer in the commentary section. I suggest that visitors to this site read that section after reading the paper. During the course of that interaction, it became clear that this article really belonged on the Web, rather than in a print magazine. I hope that it is useful to students who are blind, and just as importantly, serves as a resource for teachers of blind students. The world is too full of factors to discourage students who cannot see from pursuing a career in science and math; hopefully this article can serve to at least minimally offset that imbalance.

Note that this article is a personal story --- and that not everything that worked for me is likely to work in general for someone else. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

T. V. Raman, May 19, 2007