Carroll, Paulos, Wonderland, Alice, mathematics


At first blush it may seem that linking the acclaimed achievements of John Allen Paulos and the acclaimed achievements of Lewis Carroll (a.k.a. Oxford mathematics don Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) is merely an exercise in free association. Both are prestigious academic mathematicians. Both have an obvious interest in humor. Both have made it to best-seller lists.

That free association, however, is not the issue here. Instead, the issue is whether John Allen Paulos has highlighted basic questions of mathematical literacy and whether the issues that Paulos highlights do not, in fact, reflect mathematical and artistic concerns of Lewis Carroll in writing his immortal classics, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through a Looking Glass. How can these immortal classics be read—given that they are written in a disguised, symbolic, and literary form—to explain Carroll’s wide attraction for adult mathematical and STEM-discipline audiences? And when we have read them so, do Carroll’s concerns adumbrate Paulos’ insistence on mathematics as a set of mind, a disjunction between that mindset and the mindset of the society around it?

Specifically the intent of this paper is to suggest a consistent reading of Carroll in light of Paulos and to do so in such a way that it suggests important new directions for the discussion of Numeracy (as the opposite of Paulos’ Innumeracy) and for the discussion of Quantitative Literacy.



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