Even though Johnny Depp played a mathematician in his recent film, The Tourist, we don't learn much about what mathematicians think or do from that story. Poetry offers more insight. Mathematician and writer Sherman Stein gives us this portrayal:
Mathematician by Sherman K Stein
What do you see?
A mathematician at a desk.
Papers scattered, open books,
a pencil. A few scribbles,
then a crumpled piece of paper
flung at a wastebasket.
Then a fresh piece.
You call this dull,
think nothing happens.
In truth, she is not here
in this room, bound by these walls.
She journeys beyond the moon,
the sun, the stars, out of our galaxy,
she roams beyond the rim of the universe,
soars where no one has ventured before.
Everywhere she looks
questions rise up,
surround her, trick her,
the baffling disguised as simple,
the shallow masquerading as deep.
They won't let her sleep.
Some she will answer;
others will consume her.
Each answer raises new questions,
that tempt her, pull her yet farther away.
may unlock a deadly riddle
back on earth.
She may never know
which one it was.
Who says there are no worlds
left to explore, no mysteries
the most daring soul?
Sherman Stein's most recent book is Survival Guide for Outsiders: How to protect yourself from politicians, experts, and other insiders (BookSurge, 2010). Also in 2010 a paperback edition of his classic Mathematics the Man-Made Universe became available. Stein's poem "Mathematician" first appeared in an early edition of the Humanistic Mathematics Network Journal, a publication that has recently been revived with a slight name change.
Several prior blog postings in the series "Poems starring mathematicians" may be found on these dates in 2010: December 8, April 14, April 15, April 26, April 28, May 4, May 14, and, under the title "In the same family . . . ," on July 20.