18 1 A Taste of Things to Come
Bubble Wrap: Give the teens a square of bubble wrap to pop
for one of their breaks. They really get into the sound and
action of popping the bubbles.
Should we be surprised if it were con-
firmed indeed that the most comfort-
able pace of execution of a recursive
algorithm is set by a gene responsible for
As I suspected, the soothing and
comforting effect of bubble wrap pop-
ping is indeed well known to practic-
I would suggest that HOXB8 is
indeed the Bubble Wrap Gene and
is responsible for Sudoku being at-
tractive to humans. I would rather
hear more on that from geneticists
At last I am in a position to formulate the moral of this story. I
believe that a real understanding of one of the key issues of math-
ematical practice (and especially of mathematics teaching) cannot
be achieved without answering a question:
• why are some objects, concepts, and processes of mathematics
more intuitive, “natural”, or just more convenient and accept-
able than others?
We cannot answer it withou taking a hard and close look at the
very deep and sometimes archaic levels of the human mind and
the human neural system. Indeed, Stanislas Dehaene said in his
book The Number Sense :
We have to do mathematics using the brain which evolved
30,000 years ago for survival in the African savanna.
In particular, should we be surprised if it were confirmed in-
deed that the most comfortable pace of execution of a recursive al-
gorithm is set by a gene responsible for grooming behavior?
1.7 What lies ahead?
We have seen how the deceptively simple function y = |x| launched
us on a roller coaster ride through several branches of mathemat-
ics. More adventures still lie ahead. They all will follow a similar
• Usually I start by describing a very simple—sometimes ridicu-
lously simple—mathematical problem, object, or procedure.
• Then I discuss possible neurophysiological mechanisms which
might underpin the way we think and work with this object.
Sometimes my conjectures are purely speculative, sometimes
(for example, in the next chapter) they are based on established