‘What is this thing called Math?’ discussion after ‘Infinity’ movie Wednesday

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Monitor staff
Published: 6/7/2016 3:16:59 AM

Did quadratic equations exist when the dinosaurs were around, or did they only come into being with the arrival of theorem-creating humanity?

That’s an odd question, admittedly, but it’s one you might want to think about before watching Wednesday’s showing of The Man Who Knew Infinity, the entertaining biography of one of the most unusual mathematicians in modern history, at Red River Theatres on South Main Street in Concord. Because it just might come up in the post-screening chat.

I’ll be hosting that discussion along with Ian Anderson, who directs a program called Ask Dr. Math. We’re calling the event “What Is This Thing Called Math?” partly because you can’t go wrong with a Cole Porter reference, but also because the unexpected brilliance of Ramanujan, the hero of the Infinity movie, raises interesting questions about how mathematics comes to be.

We’ll be talking about the movie and what it says about the nature of math. Like all Science Cafe events, audience questions are more than welcome, so come on by. The movie starts at 6 p.m. in the Simchik Cinema Screening Room, and the discussion will take place afterwards. Cost is $8 for members of Red River Theatres, and $10 for others.

Ramanujan was a poor clerk in British-controlled India before World War I who independently found a slew of important and interesting formulas about important concepts that few of us have heard about, such as arithmetic partitions. He said many were given to him by the Hindu goddess Namagiri, which proved puzzling to his mentor, the brilliant but avowedly atheist British mathematician G.H. Hardy.

Much of Infinity deals with the relationship between Ramanujan and Hardy, probably the oddest mathematical duo in history, but it also does a pretty good job of introducing some of the mathematical issues involved – so we can chew on a few infinite series, if we’re so inclined.

It’ll be fun, I promise.

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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