The Zen of Math

Welcome! Please remove your shoes before entering the room. Find yourself a cushion and sit comfortably.

Comfy? Good. Now close your eyes. Breathe in for four counts and out for five counts. Now breathe in for eight counts minus four and out for the square root of 25.

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Math! Such a meditation experience could be one person’s biggest nightmare and someone else’s paradise. Some can crack the mysteries of math from a young age as though born with a “math gene,” while others experience a lifelong struggle with it. It can arouse the curiosity of the innocent, excite the seasoned problem solver and incite anxiety in the phobic.


Whatever math is for you — a discipline, numbers, a useless abstraction, a ball of fun, or a pain in the butt — math can be your teacher if you let it. It is like a stick-wielding Zen master, poking students to wake up and asking them questions they can’t always answer. Math reveals deeper truths about reality and the experience of it. It goes beyond adding and subtracting, geometry and calculus. It goes right to the heart of existence. Think about it:

  • There are many ways to solve a problem. The approach is the art of the individual.
  • Math never lies. In that respect, it is a metaphor for Ultimate Truth. A person can come up with incorrect answers and believe they are correct, but the truth remains intact despite his ignorance. And no politician can argue 2+2=5 and get away with it.
  • You have to show your work, your effort, to prove you know what you’re doing. You cannot fake a mastery of math.
  • Math teaches that you have no control over outcomes. Despite your best efforts, you cannot change the prime factorization of a number. What is the prime factor of humanity?
  • Math teaches that you can’t just sit by and wait for an equation to solve itself.
  • Math teaches patience and persistence.
  • What you give to math is reflected back to you. If you hate it, it hates. If you love it, it loves. In that way, Math is a mirror of your attitude toward life.
  • Through Math, you can overcome the misconception that mistakes are flaws, for in seeing your mistakes, you see your misconceptions. You learn from your mistakes, not because you will never make them again, but because that is what mistakes are for — learning.
  • One must remain humble with Math. The second you think you know it all is the moment you make a careless mistake.
  • Math teaches the interconnectedness of all things. Fractions can be written as decimals, decimals as percents, percents as fractions. They still equal the same number.
  • In that regard, Math teaches peace. Division is not at war with multiplication.  They work together back and forth peacefully. One does not consider itself superior to the other. Multiplication does not say, “Division is so divisive! It’s evil!”
  • Math teaches that curiosity and looking deeply can open new vistas and awaken understanding. Sometimes, the answer doesn’t present itself immediately. You have to have faith in your ability or potential to see.
  • Ultimately, Math is not important. It is as empty as any other mental construct.

Do we need math in design?

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Of course we do. A lot of times mathematically precise shapes and ratios make your design look better (more here). Because we as human beings are wired to view these things automatically. Think about that golden ratio, we find it for over 4000 years in about any form of art (more here).

Now, return to your cushion and breathe in for 24 divided by 6. And out for 2 times 10 plus 5. Good! Doesn’t that feel better?

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2 Comments The Zen of Math

  1. Remove White Background Nov 2, 2015 at 01:57

    so amazing design post and also math in design discus with golden ratio ..thanks

  2. Peetr Oct 23, 2018 at 02:53

    Heap of nonsense and rubbish


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