Science Focus - the home of BBC Science Focus Magazine
Was maths invented or discovered? © Getty Images

Was maths invented or discovered?

Subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine and get 6 issues for just £9.99

It is a universal truth that 1 + 1 = 2, but how we worked that out is a little more complicated.

Asked by: Leah Victoria Smith, Hereford


The fact that 1 plus 1 equals 2, or that there’s an infinite number of primes, are truths about reality that held even before mathematicians knew about them. As such, they’re discoveries – but they were made using techniques invented by mathematicians. For example, according to Pythagoras’ theorem, the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. This is true for all right-angled triangles on a level surface, so it’s a discovery.

Showing it is true, however, requires the invention of a proof. And over the centuries, mathematicians have devised hundreds of different techniques capable of proving the theorem. In short, maths is both invented and discovered.

Read more:


Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun facts.


Robert is a science writer and visiting professor of science at Aston University.


Sponsored content