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The story starts with two math people in an elevator, complaining about the "Muzak" that's piped in and inescapable. They complain about how trite and shallow it is, nothing like "real music". Consider this some heavy-handed foreshadowing.

Later they are enthusiastically discussing how they are engaged in a program to help the wider population become better at math ... no more "I'm no good at math" from people unable to add fractions. Instead people will become capable and effective mathematicians, bringing widespread improvement to all aspects of life, theirs and others.

When the plan succeeds, everyone is "doing math", and to their horror the world is flooded with math that is as deep and useful as "Muzak", akin to numerology and astrology.

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F! When and where did you read this?
    – DavidW
    Jan 22 at 14:56
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    @DavidW : Thank you for the welcome. I don't know when I read this. I thought it was in the mid 70s when I was in my teens, although the answer "A New Golden Age" was written in 1979 and published in 1981, and I'm pretty sure that's the right story. I'm a little surprised. Not sure where I could have read it. I wonder if there's an earlier story with a similar theme. Jan 22 at 16:50

1 Answer 1

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A New Golden Age by Rudy Rucker? See Mathematical Fiction for a summary. A few of the details don't match but most of it does:

“The music …” he began. “The music most people listen to is not good.”

I didn’t see what he was getting at, and started my usual defense of rock music.

“Muzak,” Mies interrupted. “Isn’t that what you call it…what they play in airports?”

“Yeah. Easy listening.”

“Do you really expect that the official taste in mathematics will be any better? If everyone were to sit under the Moddler…what kind of mathematics would they ask for?”

And it ends with:

“Here’s to the new golden age of mathematics,” Lord Vickers cried suddenly.

“To Thematics and Metathematics,” his wife added, lifting her glass. There was a chorus of approving remarks.

“That was the real thing.”

“Plenty of logic.”

“And so many symbols!”

You can read the entire story online on the author's site.

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    Looks like that's it. I think the difference in details are my faulty memory, and that, in turn, is likely what has prevented me from re-finding it over the years. Thank you. Jan 22 at 16:47

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