Posted by: Prof. Kate | September 20, 2008

The Importance of Mathematics

Students in Math 152 have been introducing themselves in the course discussion board, and many of them are applied mathematics or economics concentrators, or former physics concentrators, etc.  Which is to say, people interested in pure mathematics but with a bent toward the applied as well.  As a pure mathematician, I’m often asked “What’s it good for?”  Because I, unlike my students, don’t often think of putting my mathematics to practical use in the conventional sense.

The answer is most eloquently put in the wonderful lecture “The Importance of Mathematics” given by Timothy Gowers.  It’s aimed at a general audience (mom, that’s you!) and is available as

The first two thirds of the lecture are excellent. Towards the end, he veers into the question of aesthetics and beauty in mathematics, but unfortunately does a much less complete and rather unconvincing job in this portion.

(If you have any trouble finding the full eight parts on YouTube, they are Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7 and Part 8).

Thanks to Grétar Amazeen for directing me to this last year.

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