Playing with LEGO® and Proving Theorems

Fenner Tanswell

What’s the point of LEGO®? Why do we want so much of it and to build so many models with it? One answer might be that we like having it as a material possession and that LEGO is about owning, building, and collecting as many models as possible, or the rarest models we can get, or our favorite sets, or some combination of all of those. Certainly this is entirely true for some people, and maybe a little true for all of us, but it doesn’t seem like it can be the whole picture. Even the moral of the LEGO movie is that there is more to it than that: a lot of the joy of having LEGO models is the freedom to re-combine, muddle up, invent, and play with them.

There’s a similar question that we can ask when doing math. What’s it all about!? One answer that is pretty common among philosophers of mathematics is that it’s about numbers, shapes, equations, and all that kind of stuff. But, as in the case of LEGO, this might be a limited answer, only getting some of the picture right.

The actual answers to both questions are closely connected. That is, just as LEGO isn’t only about bricks, math isn’t just about numbers and all the other mathsy stuff. They are also both about what we do with the objects in question—the activities and actions to which we put those objects. In LEGO we can build sets following the instructions, or alternatively dump a whole bunch of LEGO on the floor and build whatever we like. In math, we have a similar freedom to create new things, solve problems, and play around.

LEGO® and Philosophy: Constructing Reality Brick By Brick, First Edition. Edited by Roy T. Cook and Sondra Bacharach.

© 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2017 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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