Skip to main content

Is math discovered or invented? - Jeff Dekofsky


9,526 Questions Answered

TEDEd Animation

Let’s Begin…

Would mathematics exist if people didn't? Did we create mathematical concepts to help us understand the world around us, or is math the native language of the universe itself? Jeff Dekofsky traces some famous arguments in this ancient and hotly debated question.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

Is mathematics invented or discovered? There are varying opinions on the topic. Read this article: How Math Works and get some ideas about the theories that exist on this question.

What do physicists think about this topic? Quantum Diaries has a blog post for you to read and find the answer! Stephen Wolfram, a TED speaker, has an opinion about this topic too! He believes that mathematics we have today is a historical artifact. Watch an insightful interview with this author and CEO.

As mentioned before, many mathematicians, scientists and philosophers have expressed their opinions on this question. Here is one sample from Rethink Science that discusses both sides of the topic. Check out this NPR philosophy post and then scroll to the bottom for a list of books pertinent to this debate. This is just a small sampling to give you some food for thought.

Do numbers exist? Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides an explanation of three differing philosophies on this idea: Platonism, fictionalism, and nominalism. Here is a link to a Numberphile for you to watch.

What do you think? Interested in learning about the differing schools of thought on this topic throughout history? Click here for more.

Want to know more about the Fibonacci sequence mentioned in the lesson? The TED Talk called: The magic of Fibonacci numbers featuring Arthur Benjamin will give you w wonderful perspective on the hidden properties of this magical math sequence. The SciShow discusses the Fibonacci sequence: Nature’s Code here. To see more pictures of the Fibonacci sequence in nature, take a look at this site. Now do you believe that math really is fun? Go out to your garden and find the Fibonacci sequence in the plants there. For more ideas where to look, go to this site. For a fun finale on Fibonacci, watch Nature by Numbers, a beautiful video by Cristobal Vila.

Next Section »

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Jeff Dekofsky
  • Director Bill Keaggy
  • Artist Chris Roettger
  • Animator Eric DeFord, Sol Lee, Janghun Lee
  • Sound Designer Rob Todd
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

More from Math In Real Life