The Art of Mathematics
By Carol Jacoby
The Art of MathematicsMar 22, 2023
Interfacing Music and Mathematics
Lawrence Udeigwe, associate professor of mathematics at Manhattan College and an MLK Visiting Associate Professor in Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, is both a mathematician and a musician. We discuss his recent opinion piece in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society calling for "A Case for More Engagement" between the two areas, and even get a little "Misty." He's working on music that both jazz and math folks will enjoy. We talk about "hearing" math in jazz and the life of a mathematician among neuroscientists.
Fourier Analysis: It's Not Just for Differential Equations
Joseph Bennish returns to dig into the math behind the Fourier Analysis we discussed last time. Specifically, it allows us to express any function in terms of sines and cosines. Fourier analysis appears in nature--our eyes and ears do it. It's used to study the distribution of primes, build JPEG files, read the structure of complicated molecules and more.
Joseph Fourier, the Heat Equation and the Age of the Earth
Joseph Bennish, Professor Emeritus of California State University, Long Beach, joins us for an excursion into physics and some of the mathematics it inspired. Joseph Fourier straddled mathematics and physics. Here we focus on his heat equation, based on partial differential equations. Partial differential equations have broad applications. Fourier developed not only the heat equation but also a way to solve it. This equation was used to answer, among other questions, the issue of the age of the earth. Was the earth too young to make Darwin's theory credible?
The Ten Most Important Theorems in Mathematics, Part II
Jim Stein, Professor Emeritus of CSULS, returns to complete his (admittedly subjective) list of the ten greatest math theorems of all time, with fascinating insights and anecdotes for each. Last time he did the runners up and numbers 8, 9 and 10. Here he completes numbers 1 through 7, again ranging over geometry, trig, calculus, probability, statistics, primes and more.
The Ten Most Important Theorems in Mathematics, Part I
Surprisingly Better than 50-50
Jim Stein, Professor Emeritus of California State University Long Beach, discusses some bets that appear to be 50-50, but can have better odds with a tiny amount of seemingly useless information. Blackwell's Bet involves two envelopes of money. You can open only one. Which one do you choose? We learn about David Blackwell and his mathematical journey amid blatant racism. Another seeming 50-50 bet is guessing which of two unrelated events that you know nothing about is more likely; you can do better than 50-50 by taking just one sample of one of the events. Dr. Stein then discusses how mathematics shows up in some surprising places. Mathematics studied for the pure joy of it often finds surprising uses. He gives some examples from G. H. Hardy as well as his own research.
Approximation by Rationals: A New Focus
Joseph Bennish, Prof. Emeritus of CSULB, describes the field of Diophantine approximation, which started in the 19th Century with questions about how well irrational numbers can be approximated by rationals. It took Cantor and Lebesgue to develop new ways to talk about the sizes of infinite sets to give the 20th century new ways to think about it. This led up to the Duffin-Schaeffer conjecture and this year's Fields Medal for James Maynard.
Jeanne Lazzarini, a math education specialist, returns to discuss tessellations and tiling in the works of Escher, Penrose, ancient artists and nature. We go beyond the familiar square or hexagonal tilings of the bathroom floor. M.C. Escher was an artist who made tessellations with lizards or birds, as well as pictures of very strange stairways. Roger Penrose is a scientist who discovered two tiles that, remarkably, can cover an area without repeat, as well as a strange stairway.
Rational, Irrational and Transcendental Numbers
Joseph Bennish returns to take us beyond the rational numbers we usually use to numbers that have been given names that indicate they're crazy or other-worldly. The Greeks were shocked to discover irrational numbers, violating their geometric view of the world. But later it was proved that any irrational number can be approximated remarkably well by a relatively simple fraction. The transcendental numbers were even more mysterious and were not even proved to exist until the 19th century.
Math as Art
Jeanne Lazzarini, a math education specialist, shares the connections between math, such as fractals and the golden ratio, and art. These are everywhere--nature, architecture, film and more. She shares hands-on mathematical activities that helped her students see math as an exploration and an art.
Exploration in Reading Mathematics
Lara Alcock of Loughborough University shares what she learned, by tracking eye movements, about how mathematicians and students differ in the ways they read mathematics. She developed a 10-15 minute exploration training, that increases students' comprehension through self-explanation. We also discuss the transition between procedural math and proofs that many students struggle with early in their college careers.
Games for Math Learning
The Power of Mathematical Storytelling
Sunil Singh, the author of Chasing Rabbits and other books, shares fascinating stories that show mathematics as a universal place of exploration and comfort. Stories of mathematical struggle and discovery in the classroom help students connect deeply with the topic, feel the passion, and see math as multi-cultural and class-free.
The Mathematical World and the Physical World
Getting Athletes to Think Like Mathematicians
Caron Rivera, a math teacher at a school for elite athletes, shares how she breaks through the myth of the "math person" and teaches athletes to think like mathematicians. Her problem solving technique applies to anything. Through it her students get comfortable with not knowing, with the adventure of seeking the answer. They build their brains in the process.
The Art of Definitions
Brian Katz of CSULB joins us once again to discuss mathematical definitions. Students often see them as cast in stone. Prof. Katz helps them see that they're artifacts of human choices. The student has the power to create mathematics through definitions. This is illustrated by the definitions of "sandwich" and "approaching a limit." What makes a good definition? How is mathematics like a dream?
Math Exploration for Kids
Is Mathematics an Art?
Math as a way of thinking
Ian Stewart, prolific author of popular books about math, discusses how math is the best way to think about the natural world. Often math developed for its own sake is later found useful for seemingly unrelated real-world problems. A silly little puzzle about islands and bridges leads eventually to a theory used for epidemics, transportation and kidney transplants. A space-filling curve, of interest to mathematicians mainly for being counterintuitive, has applications to efficient package delivery. The mathematical theories are often so bizarre that you wouldn't find them if you started with the real-world problem.
Symmetries in 3 and 4 Dimensions
Joseph Bennish joins us once again to continue his discussion of symmetry, this time venturing into higher dimensions. We explore the complex symmetry groups of the Platonic solids and the sphere and their relationships. We then venture into the 4th dimension, where we see that, with a change to the distance the symmetries are maintaining, we get Einstein's Theory of Relativity.
Symmetry, Shapes and Groups
We are all born with an intuitive attraction to symmetry, through human faces and heartbeats. Joseph Bennish, of California State University Long Beach, explores the mathematical meaning of symmetry, what it means for one shape to be more symmetric than another, how symmetries form mathematical groups and groups form symmetries, and hints at implications for Fourier analysis, astronomy and relativity.
Freshmen and Sophomores Confront Unsolved Problems
Stereotypes of Mathematics and Mathematicians
Will Murray, chair of the math department at California State University, Long Beach, discusses popular stereotypes of mathematicians and what they do when they do mathematics. Is it all lone geniuses generating big numbers? If so many people dislike mathematical thinking, why is Sudoku so popular?
Prime numbers and their surprising patterns
Creativity in Mathematics
The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics
Saleem Watson discusses the mysterious way math predicts the natural world. Much of math is invented, and yet there are many examples of cases in which purely abstract math, developed with no reference to the natural world, later is found to make accurate and useful models and predictions of the physical world.
Alternative Proofs and Why We Seek Them
Joseph Bennish discusses two famous theorems, proved long ago, and some modern alternative proofs. Why would we bother reproving something that was confirmed thousands of years ago? The answers are insight, aesthetics, and opening up surprising new areas of investigation.
Symmetry--It's More Than You Think
Scott Crass, Professor of Mathematics at CSULB, expands our vague intuition about symmetry to look at transformations of various kinds and what they leave fixed. This approach finds applications in physics, biology, art and several branches of math.
Is Math Discovered or Invented?
Saleem Watson, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, CSULB, confronts an ancient mathematical argument. Is math a body of eternal truths waiting for an explorer to uncover them, or an invention or work of art created by the human mind? Or some of each?
That's Impossible. Oh, Yeah? Prove It.
Paul Eklof, Professor Emeritus UCI, discusses the famous impossible straightedge-and-compass constructions of antiquity that have fascinated mathematicians and attracted cranks for centuries. There are infinitely many possible constructions. How can you prove not one of them will work?
The Joy of Mathematical Discovery
Joseph Bennish, math professor at California State University, Long Beach, discusses how math is an exploration involving imagination and excitement. Kids get this. Adults can recapture this by generalizing and questioning. For example, a simple barnyard riddle leads to questions about optics.
The Monty Hall Problem
You are a contestant on Let's Make a Deal, hosted by Monty Hall. There are 3 identical doors. Behind only one is the prize car. You make your choice, then Monty Hall opens one of the other doors to reveal a goat and asks whether you want to change your choice. Should you, or does it matter? Paula Sloan talks about the counterintuitive answer, and how she got the Duke MBA students in her math class to believe the answer.
What Is Mathematics? Some Surprising Answers
Brian Katz, a professor at California State University, Long Beach, approaches math as a philosopher, a linguist and an artist. It is not a science, but a byproduct of consciousness, an expression of humanity and a way to make connections.
Being a Mathematician
We talk with Kathryn McCormick, Assistant Professor at California State University, Long Beach, about why she got into this obscure field, what a mathematician really does, and where we can learn more about being a mathematician.
Math Jokes and What They Say about Mathematicians
There are a lot of jokes that poke fun at mathematicians, how they think and how they fumble around in the real world. Many of them start, "A mathematician, an engineer and a physicist ..." We'll look at what these jokes say about us. The most telling is a little joke that only a mathematician would enjoy, since it gives surprising insight into how mathematicians think through all this abstraction.
The Most Famous (Formerly) Unsolved Problem
Fermat’s Last Theorem is easy to state but has taken over 300 years to prove. Fermat’s supposed “marvelous proof” has been a magnet for crackpots and obsessed mathematicians, leading through a treasure hunt across almost all branches of mathematics.
The Mathematics of Art
A surprising amount of art is inspired by mathematics. The book Fragments of Infinity describes many works of art and the mathematics behind them. Meet mathematicians who have become artists and artists who have become mathematicians, and some who have always straddled both worlds.
The Real World Is a Special Case
How to Find Something You’ve Never Seen
Another seemingly easy problem that’s hard to solve. In fact, it's unsolved. Find an odd perfect number or prove one doesn’t exist. The search involves “spoof” answers, trying to find the right answer (or prove it doesn't exist) by looking at wrong answers. Hey, nothing else has worked.
Beyond the Third Dimension
The fourth dimension is a staple of science fiction and the key to relativity. What exactly is it and how can we visualize it? What about higher dimensions?
One Theorem, 99 Proofs
Can you really approach one mathematical statement 99 different ways? We review the wonderful book 99 Variations on a Proof. The answer is yes.
A Beautiful Theorem with an Ugly Proof
The Four Color Theorem is a pretty little conjecture that has been intriguing mathematicians for more than a century. Too bad the proof stands as an example of really ugly mathematics.
To Infinity...and Beyond
What is infinity, why does it seem so weird, and can you really go beyond it?
The Unsolved Is Solved...and Another
We consider two problems, one in tiling and one in knots. They had each had been unsolved for over 50 years and their solutions hit the popular press in the same week. What kind of skills help people make surprising connections and new discoveries?
This Podcast is Lying
An Impossible Easy Question
Everything You Know About Math is Wrong
We explore some of the common misconceptions about mathematics and mathematicians.