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Illustration by William Blake, 1794 (The British Museum)
In a fascinating evening, internationally known astrophysicist Mario Livio explores why mathematics is as powerful as it is in terms of explaining the cosmos—a phenomenon Nobel Laureate Eugene Wigner dubbed “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics.”
From ancient times to the present, scientists and philosophers have marveled at how such a seemingly abstract discipline could so perfectly explain the natural world. Livio also examines the ways in which mathematics has often made predictions, for example, about the existence of then unknown subatomic particles, which were later proven to exist.
He also discusses an intriguing question that mathematicians, physicists, psychologists, and philosophers have struggled with for decades: Is mathematics ultimately a discovery, or a mere invention of the human mind? Along the way, participants learn the fascinating stories and insights of renowned mathematicians, from Pythagoras to Penrose, and from Galileo to Gödel, who have shaped our ideas about mathematics and the philosophy of mathematics.
Livio worked for 24 years with the Hubble Space Telescope and is a best-selling author of popular science books.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
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Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)