TED Talks have always fascinated me, especially the ones pertaining to relationships, for they offer unique insights into the matters of the heart. Of the many talks that I have watched, one stands out from the rest for its sheer novelty—The Mathematics of Love by mathematician Hannah Fry. Her idea—of viewing love through the lens of mathematics—fascinated me. Naturally, I was thrilled when TED Books Box Set with The Mathematics of Love was released. I was eager to read the book, know more about Fry and her mathematical take on love.
Love is undoubtedly one of the most talked about and debated subjects of human existence. The pages of history and the verses of poetry are adorned with stories of love. Love is often the theme of movies, songs and books. There’s a lot written about the subject, and there will always be more to write about it. But what differentiates Fry’s The Mathematics of Love from the rest is her approach to the subject. The author uses mathematics as a guide to talk about love.
In the introduction, she writes: “Human emotions, unlike mathematical equations, are not neatly ordered or well behaved, and the real thrill and essence of romance can’t easily be defined.” And indeed, one might wonder how something as objective as mathematics could offer a perspective on a subjective concept like love. But Fry manages to achieve just that.
As I continued reading, I realised how love just like mathematics is full of patterns. It was a revelation, as I had never thought love could be patterned. Fry writes: “Thankfully, love—as with most of life—is full of patterns: from the number of sexual partners we have in our lifetime to how we choose who to message on an internet dating website. These patterns twist and turn and warp and evolve just as love does, and are all patterns which mathematics is uniquely placed to describe.”
These words justify as to how models of mathematics could, in fact, offer a refreshing view on love. Take for instance, the case of singleton mathematician Peter Backus that Fry mentions. Backus claims that there are far more intelligent alien civilisations in the milky way galaxy than potential women for him to date. Backus uses The Drake Equation (that aims to estimate the number of intelligent extra-terrestrial life forms in our galaxy) to find the number of his potential girlfriends! He breaks down the estimation by making little educated guesses rather than one big one.
Say, we do find people to date, using the Drake Equation. Then arises the question—how do we know who is the one? Fry has a practical theory that can answer this question. She writes: “Say you start dating when you are 15 years old and would ideally like to settle down by the time you’re 40. In the first 37 percent of your dating window (until just after your twenty-fourth birthday), you should reject everyone; use this time to get a feel for the market and a realistic assessment of what you can expect in a life partner. Once the rejection phase has passed, pick the next person who comes along who is better than everyone that you have met before.”
Theories like this make The Mathematics of Love an interesting read. The nine chapters of the book are nine pearls of wisdom, demonstrating how something as abstract as love can be more empirically understood. Fry’s lucid writing not only helps the reader understand mathematical concepts, but also see the beauty and relevance of mathematics in offering perspective on the emotion of love.