We’re talking numbers at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni and the plan is to get everyone involved, from people who find the topic intriguing but are not experts, right up to the expert looking for more in-depth knowledge. A full range of workshop activities, specially tailored to cater to different age groups and classes in school and to an adult audience with different levels of expertise, will lead everyone – absolutely everyone – by the hand into a fascinating yet crucial universe that allows us to penetrate the mysteries of the world around us.
The underlying idea is to introduce visitors to the dual nature of numbers. Numbers are natural things that the human brain is designed to process, and they’re useful because our society constantly needs them to quantify and to measure; but numbers are also artificial and socially construed objects, they’re sophisticated mathematical and cultural tools with linguistic and cultural implications that have travelled through time and space. Not only do they provide the basic language to any kind of science , they have also had an enormous influence on philosophy and theology, on art, architecture and music.
The exhibition bases its narrative on this approach, beginning its journey of discovery by looking at the brain, which is naturally equipped to manipulate number and quantity. After grasping the concept of number, the next phase involves giving numbers a name and writing them down; we will show the way in which “counting” and “making sums” have evolved and how different they can be from one culture to the next. That brings us naturally to calculating tools, designed and built by men of all eras in an effort to overcome our limitations. This is followed by a look at “pure” and “applied” numbers, the ones we use to measure things with. We shall be starting with units of measurement (in everyday life, in medicine, in the economy) and moving right up to the fundamental constants of the universe. Our exploration ends with a reflection on the abstract side of numbers – man has speculated on their properties and their meaning since the dawn of history.