Mathematics an d Sport s
(in Place o f a Foreword )
It may seem, at first sight, that mathematics and sports are very far apart .
Indeed, man y youn g peopl e mistakenl y believ e tha t learnin g mat h i s on e
thing an d goin g i n fo r sport s i s quite another . The y thin k s o because the y
are inexperienced, and perhaps because their school focuses on the exact sci-
ences and neglects physical education. Admittedly , too many bright student s
look down on games and physical training. A t the same time, though, man y
scientists, includin g mathematician s an d physicist s o f th e olde r generation ,
take the sports they go in for very seriously, knowing, as they do, that sport s
promote a person's all-around development , intellectua l as well as physical.
In recent decades dramatic changes have occurred in life and in the quality
of education , especiall y i n th e are a o f exac t sciences . Th e greate r flow o f
information has increased psychological stress at work and at school. Th e new
conditions o f life , study , an d wor k mak e i t imperativ e fo r th e young—an d
not-so-young—to have mental and physical stability. W e are convinced, fro m
observation an d our own experience, that those working in mathematics an d
physics are particularly in need of such stability. Creativ e scientists know the
joy of discovery (a n extraordinary experienc e not everyone is familiar with) ,
as well as the fatigue comin g on the heels of extreme mental strain . Norber t
Wiener wrote: Sever e work of a research nature drains one dry, and withou t
an ampl e opportunit y t o res t a s intensely a s one ha s worked th e qualit y o f
one's research mus t go down and down.
People seek mental relaxation in a variety of ways. Som e play bridge (they
call it a mathematician's game), others prefer chess (the very thing for a high-
brow), while others still would go on a hike now and then—but very few turn
to sports. Mos t people believe that neither bridge nor chess, nor the Japanese
game of Go, nor any other game requiring great intellectual concentration i s
truly relaxing. On e current—perhaps no t indisputable—opinio n i s that i t i s
impossible t o engag e seriousl y i n mathematic s an d ches s a t th e sam e time .
They cite especially the example of Emanuel Lasker, who, upon becoming an
Norbert Wiener , I am a mathematician, M.I.T . Press, Cambridge, MA, 1970, p. 127.