Higher mathematics is a subject that has always seemed completely inaccessible to all but the select few who could breathe in the rarefied atmosphere of the intellectual plane where it lives. Just as mathematics seems to be beyond most people's intellectual grasp, however, it also seemed to make absolutely no difference to the great majority of the population. Number theory, probability theory, mathematical modeling, the mysterious math used in computer technology, and even statistics and mathematical reasoning seemed to have little to do with daily life, work, or anything that was of much interest to the average man, woman, or child. When a mathematician somewhere in Great Britain announced a few years ago that he had solved the problem of Fermat's Last Theorem the news made no difference to the vast majority of people, while a few, vaguely remembering the story of the theorem, understood that this was an extremely clever thing to do. But number theory seemed far more arcane, distant, and forbidding than Chinese politics, Russian poetry, Hindu mythology, or all those words the Eskimos use for snow. Yet, as the example of computers alone can tell us, higher math is leaving its perch and beginning to walk among us.

Aside from its forbidding complexity and impracticality, however, mathematics also seems futile to many people. It is merely a matter, it seems, of learning more and more complex maneuvers that have been done a thousand times--just like the arithmetic and a