Vol. 21 No. 1 (2011)

Pólya on Mathematical Abilities

Published 2015-05-01


In April 1978, I interviewed George Pólya about his views on mathematical abilities. I was in California for the annual meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in San Diego and arranged to stop by Pólya’s house in Palo Alto after the meeting to discuss his views on mathematical abilities as well as the articles on mathematics education to be included in his collected papers (Rota, Reynolds, & Shortt, 1984). The following article is abridged from that interview and focuses on mathematical abilities. For me, the most unexpected feature of the interview was that although Pólya had obviously reflected throughout his long life on the question of how he and others do mathematics, he had apparently not given much thought previously to the abilities they were drawing on when they did it. Nonetheless, Pólya’s wit and charm come through clearly as he patiently struggles with his former student’s awkward questions.