“What is it that distinguishes us from cavemen?” asks the mathematician Edward Frenkel. “I would say it’s the level of abstraction that we can reach.”
Think about the evolution of money. The first agrarian societies may have used some form of credit system, but it is widely believed that barter was the first form of exchange. When currency was developed, humans began to trade goods for a coin or a piece of paper. According to Aristotle, the assignment of monetary value to an object was a great achievement in man’s psychological capacity to place trust in each other. Then money, in the form of a piece of plastic – a credit card – became even more abstract. Now when we consider money, in the form of a line of code – Bitcoin – we are entering an entirely new level of abstraction.
“Abstraction is king in this brave new world,” Frenkel says, “and the key to abstraction is mathematics.” Frenkel is the author of the new book Love & Math, and in the video below he argues that we will have a better and freer society when we have a greater understanding of math.