Maths: why?

24 April 2013
Upper Stage
Experts will guide us through the mysterious world of Mathematics.
Free admission
The etymology of ‘Mathematics’, a compound noun made up of the verb ‘mathaino’, meaning ‘learn’ and the noun ‘mathima’, meaning ‘lesson’, has declared the discipline’s relationship with knowledge for millennia. But it also raises some fundamental questions: for one, does this knowledge pertain to reality? Because Mathematics does not study and analyze ‘natural laws’, seeking instead to construct an intellectual system based on axioms we take to be true.

In some strange way, however, this science with its unsound foundations and truths that are actually constructs, pure and simple, has demonstrated astonishing applications in the other sciences. The Hungarian American Nobel prize-winner Eugene Wigner has described this phenomenon as “the unreasonable effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences”.

Mathematics also has applications in a number of other fields. Indeed, some suspect that humankind could make mathematical calculations before we invented writing. Mathematics certainly developed rapidly in Man’s earliest civilizations, since it served essential needs in commerce, managing the harvest, measuring the surface area of land and predicting astronomical events.

Experts who have written widely on the subject for both specialist and popular audiences will guide us through the mysterious world of Mathematics, and attempt to convince us that the discipline is anything but a useless conundrum in the school curriculum.
They will also be identifying the applications of Mathematics in our everyday lives—applications too numerous, they would argue, to fully comprehend. In short, they will be defending the intellectual value of their subject.

Finally, they will also be talking to us about Mathematics’ constantly evolving partnerships with other sciences and fields of knowledge including Physics, IT and, lately, Biology, and the usefulness or otherwise of ‘extreme’ mathematical knowledge, given that a number of mathematical formulae are beyond the grasp of all but a handful of people on the planet.


Tefkros Michailidis: Author, Mathematician, Educator
Didier Nordon: Mathematician
Gilles Dowek: Mathematician

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