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February 02, 2008

The Importance of Mathematics

W. Timothy Gowers (homepage) won the Fields Medal in 1998 for work in functional analysis and combinatorics. Pleasantly, he also writes regularly at Gowers's Blog, although much of what he writes is over my head (I am probably more to blame for that fact than Gowers, however). But, this very pleasant talk he gave at the Clay Mathematics Institute for their Millennium Meeting back in 2000. His topic is generally the "Importance of Mathematics" (which of course is a familiar notion to long-time readers here), and he gives a highly entertaining intellectual meditation on the subject, and touches briefly on problems like graph coloring, computational complexity (as a way of distinguishing those things practical in theory and those things practical in practice), knot theory, and the Erdos-Kac theorem that the number of factors for a randomly chosen integer is normally distributed (something I hadn't heard before). Along the way, he gives a good explanation about why it's dangerous to cut funding to "useless" parts of mathematics (or, science) in favor of funding only the "useful" bits, and tries to convey the idea that the most important mathematics is also often the most beautiful.

Parts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. (Total length is about 60 minutes.)

posted February 2, 2008 04:06 PM in Interdisciplinarity | permalink