Simon’s legacies for mathematics educators

Authored by: Laura Martignon , Kathryn Laskey , Keith Stenning

Routledge Handbook of Bounded Rationality

Print publication date:  October  2020
Online publication date:  October  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138999381
eBook ISBN: 9781315658353
Adobe ISBN:


 Download Chapter



Herbert Simon is famous for having said: “The goal of science is to make the wonderful and the complex understandable and simple – but not less wonderful” (1996). The fundamental truth underlying Simon’s words has an important parallel in mathematics education, where one might say that the goal is to devise ways to make wonderful, sometimes complex mathematical results understandable and simple––but not less wonderful. Explaining our ideas means decomposing them into understandable pieces and gluing them together with accessible arguments. In a proper “waterproof” explanation, these arguments must be backed by logical rigor. Logical rigor is sometimes an enemy of beauty and even, at times, of intuition. Mathematics, no less than the natural sciences, is in itself a collection of wonders. It has grown at the interface between the human mind/brain and nature, enabling the mind both to model natural phenomena and to tame uncertainty. In science in general and mathematics in particular, there is a certain risk in decomposing concepts into their components and explaining processes formally because fascination may fade through the exercise of formal decomposition and explanation. According to our version of Simon’s statement, the good mathematics instructor should teach and explain mathematical facts while keeping both motivation and wonder alive in his/her students’ minds. We cite a well-known mathematical example: It is a wonderful result of mathematics that there exist exactly five Platonic solids. Explaining this wonder requires a minimum of detailed formalism and going through this formalism demands special skills of a mathematics educator, if she wants to make the result clear and understandable without tarnishing its beauty.

Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.