World as Numbers: Living in an Algorithmic Culture

Raine Koskimaa
Proceedings of Bridges 2016: Mathematics, Music, Art, Architecture, Education, Culture (2016)
Pages 9–14 Regular Papers


There is a long tradition of trying to grasp the world around us in mathematical terms. From early man perceiving the motion of celestial bodies, to Pythagoras’ ‘celestial harmony’ and to Kepler’s and Newton’s laws of motion, calculations have provided ways to reduce the messy world of instances to a handful of mathematical formulae. Einstein’s Relativity Theory, and even more the quantum physics, complicated the situation, but still, even with random elements involved, the statistics could provide a model to understand the processes of the universe. When calculations grew ever more complex, and computers became necessary tools to deal with them, this lead to the idea of seeing the whole of the universe as a vast computer. As computers have become ubiquitous, they have provided a basis for the contemporary digital culture, where algorithmic processes govern all aspects of human life. Whereas the scientific models provided a way to understand and predict natural processes, in algorithmic culture we are building and constructing a programmed environment, in which an understanding of the principles of computer algorithms should be considered as a fundamental civic skill. Mathematics pedagogy could benefit from augmented reality applications combined with math-art approaches, to better cope with our algorithmic culture.