The book is fiction, but a very lifelike tale of the joys and trials of mathematics, or in particular, being a mathematician. I recommend it for anyone interested in the field, or with a scientific bent. It is out of print but I ordered two copies on AbeBooks to scatter around to mathy people in my life.
We’ve really enjoyed the live broadcasts of plays from the National Theatre in London this past year. The next season has been announced, and it begins with a play about mathematicians G.H. Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan called “A Disappearing Number.” So we’ll be first in line to get tickets. [The plays are broadcast live in HD around the world to selected CIneplex (and presumably other) cinemas, and we’ve got a broadcast location not too far from us.]
This piece appeared in the NY Times last month, and begins:
SIMON McBURNEY understands that beginning a play with an esoteric discussion of the concept of infinity is a risk, but he doesn’t mind if the audience gets lost in his new drama, “A Disappearing Number.” In fact he’s banking on it.
Trailing rave reviews from its original London run, the latest work by Mr. McBurney’s company, Complicite, comes to the Lincoln Center Festival beginning on July 15. It tells the story of the intense working and personal relationship between the mathematicians G. H. Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan during World War I. Ramanujan, a 23-year-old Indian with no university education, introduced himself to Hardy by sending a 10-page letter with his theories on subjects like prime numbers and infinity.
Click on the link below the image to read the entire piece.
They look at the history of mathematics, the distinction between pure and applied math, and how discoveries in pure mathematics that, at the time, seemed without real life application, have turned out to be behind things like electricity (roots of cubic equations) and cryptography (prime numbers), among others. About how the field of statistics emerged from a heavy gambler's need to win at dice. This is a very accessible program, and makes a good case for the funding of pure science which is perennially under pressure in the face of market-ready endeavours.
Tonight, the boys are freed from their blazers and ties and homework for two full weeks. Alex, in particular, has been working like a dog to keep his grades up and qualify for university scholarships. He’s been accepted at all three places he applied so he’s a happy camper. He’s likely headed to Queen’s next fall to do Math, like his mum and dad. He must get the positive vibe that emanates from the two of us, young love in the math department, and all that. But he’s also a big fan of tradition and history, and the place simply exudes that from it’s limestone walls. But right now he’s very tired of school and is looking forward to the break.
Tonight he’s heading to Berkeley CA to hang with my brother/his uncle/godfather, aunt, and their two and a half charming children for a week. He gets back next Thursday night, and Friday we all leave for Puerto Vallarta. My sister, brother, their kids, and the four of us. We’ve rented a villa on the beach, with a cook and houseman, a pool, seven bedrooms, right on the beach. It sounds superluxe, but it’s basically what it would have cost us to go to an all-inclusive, without all the March break madness. And no fighing over lounge chairs around the pool. Quiet, family-oriented, low-stress. Six adults, two teens, three school-agers, and two under 4. Plus one in utero. (Not mine, in case you’re wondering. Whew!) Z and my SIL will keep each other company with their booze-less vacation, and the rest of us will be sucking back the Dos Equis and margaritas, on our lounge chairs that did not require saving before breakfast, with our big stacks of library books, knitting, and magazines. We might wander in to town a couple of times…on Sunday for sure for mass and meals as the “staff” are off. (Why do I love typing that?)
But eight days without cooking (me) and no dishes to wash (boys) plus some sun and sand promises to be rejuvenating.
A terrific piece by Paul Lockhart. This was originally published in 2002 and is 25 pages long. It’s an excellent critique of all that is wrong with K-12 mathematics education, and articulates why I have been banging my head against a wall regarding my 8th grader.
But I don’t want to go there.
If you care about math, education, or why mathematics is more like art than science, give it a read.