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Numbers are cool (part 2) - Blather, Rinse, Repeat
May 2nd, 2004
05:10 pm


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Numbers are cool (part 2)
So, last weekend, I spent a lot of time mowing and weeding and all that productive homeownerly stuff.

This weekend, I've done next to none. I've been doing other little projects, buying up ostensibly the worst music ever, finding posters to embarrass my boss, time well spent.

Today, I decided to take in a matinee of "Proof". This is a play about a woman who has just turned 25 and is concerned about how much of her mathematician father's path lies before her. The father had contributed groundbreaking proofs to three major branches of mathematics by her age. Then he began the downhill slide into obscurity. And then into insanity.

She's concerned about both - whether she has any contributions to math to offer, and if she's doomed to losing her mind like her father.

Yes, it is very reminiscent of "A Beautiful Mind".

Really very well done, and the playwright got much of the math right, which would have upset me had the math been handled any less skillfully. The actors even spoke their lines as though they understood Gauss and Number Theory and proofs.

I'd love to see this made into a movie so that I could go out and buy the DVD.

(5 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:May 2nd, 2004 06:14 pm (UTC)
This brings up an interesting point.

Suppose someone discovered the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem. I'm not talking about the grotesquerie attributed to Princeton Boy. I'm talking about an elegant one which could very well have been Fermat's.

Is there money available for that? Where?
[User Picture]
Date:May 2nd, 2004 09:38 pm (UTC)
The first thing that comes to mind is that the guy would become a celebrity (within a pretty tiny niche). And he could parlay that into money through writing a book, going on the lecture circuit.

Or, you know, recording a CD of jazz standards.

And I'm of the camp that believes that Fermat was mistaken when he thought he had an elegant proof.
[User Picture]
Date:May 2nd, 2004 10:21 pm (UTC)
Slightly less flippantly, though:

If you could come up with the proof that all the minds of your generation could not, you could "write your own ticket" and get a plum position at the university of your choice.

My understanding of folks like this is that they'd be more apt to take a position at a place based on its reputation and the other people working there, rather than financial concerns. Perhaps more with mathematics than other disciplines, the work is its own end - people generally don't go into math to make a quick buck and then retire.

And all of this seems completely afield of the interesting points brought up by the play:

* why does math seem to be done best by young men?
* what's the nature of the relationship of genius and madness?
* how much are you (in the general sense, or I guess I really mean "... am I") willing to sacrifice for your discipline?

Anyway, that's what I left thinking about.
[User Picture]
Date:May 3rd, 2004 08:53 am (UTC)
Proof is both the first show of our 2004-2005 season (at two of our three theatres) and also is coming out in movie form with the endlessly lickable, er, um, likeable, Gwenyth Paltrow soon.

but perhaps you knew that and were being sarcastic. I really have no idea.
[User Picture]
Date:May 3rd, 2004 09:37 am (UTC)
> perhaps you knew that

Actually, no - you caught me in an uncharacteristically earnest moment. I'll be interested to see Gwenyth play this role.
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