Illustration by William Blake, 1794 (The British Museum)
From ancient times to the present scientists and philosophers have marveled at how such a seemingly abstract discipline as mathematics, which appears to have been a product of human thought, could so perfectly explain the natural world. In a fascinating presentation, internationally known astrophysicist Mario Livio explores why mathematics is a powerful lens through which to examine the cosmos—a phenomenon Nobel Prize laureate Eugene Wigner dubbed “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics.”
Livio surveys the ways in which mathematics has often made predictions—for example, about the existence of then-unknown subatomic particles— which were later proven accurate. He also discusses an intriguing question with which mathematicians, physicists, psychologists, and philosophers have struggled for decades: Is mathematics ultimately a discovery, or merely an invention of the human mind?
Along the way, Livio shares compelling stories and insights of renowned mathematicians, philosophers, and scientists, from Pythagoras to Penrose, Galileo to Gödel, who have shaped our ideas about the nature of reality, mathematics, and philosophy.
Livio is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a best-selling author of seven popular science books. His book Is God a Mathematician? was the basis for the 2016 Emmy-nominated NOVA episode “The Great Math Mystery.”
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