…when I still ate in a high chair, my father would play a game with me after dinner. He had bought a whole lot of odd rectangular bathroom floor tiles from someplace in Long Island City. We set them up on end one next to the other, and I was allowed to push the end one and watch the whole thing go down. So far so good.
Next the game improved. The tiles were different colors. I must put one white, two blues, one white, two blues and another white and then two blues… You recognize already the usual insidious cleverness; first delight him in play, and then slowly inject material of educational value! Well, my mother, who is a much more feeling woman, began to realize the insidiousness of his efforts and said, “Mel, please let the poor child put a blue tile if he wants to.” My father said, “No, I want him to pay attention to patterns. It is the only thing I can do that is mathematics at this earliest level.” If I were giving a talk on “what is mathematics?” I would have already answered you. Mathematics is looking for patterns.