Saturday, October 04, 2008

Philosophy of Mathematics - the Aftermath

Hello there. Today I am unwell. Perhaps I would have actually been quite jolly had it not been for the jab I had in the morning (which I obviously contested, but was persuaded otherwise). Anyway, today I attended the workshop on Philosophy of Mathematics which I mentioned in my previous post and the day was quite great! This post is going to a be a brief summary about what happened, and tomorrow I will write a bit more about the lectures.

I somehow managed to wake up on time but had to skip breakfast (which does make one wonder as to what I define to be "on time"!). Anyway, I was in Manchester early (surprisingly) and even bumped into one of the speakers at the bus stop, but he wasn't to know that our destinations where the same so he was understandably reluctant in returning my "should I smile" smile! Since it is my third year, I have a responsibility to be able to know any short cuts etc. to my building and I was confident in getting to the AT Building before him. (One has to also keep one amused at times, considering that my arm was very painful from the jab and that it was raining...).

Yes - I was carrying an extra burden today - my left arm. Weirdly I think I am worse off today than any other day; I honestly feel quite horrible. Obviously "10am coffee" meant "10am tea" for me, and at this stage (having collected my badge) I was rather nervous. However the nerves only lasted for a short while, for we were later joined by the "Manchester crew" i.e. Dr. C and Professor Borovik. (I recall our conversation was not about Maths...).

I will be naming and shaming some individuals later and I will leave you to guess who at this moment in time. *nudge nudge*

Tea time over we walked into the Frank Adams lecture room and I had to compromise sitting at the front as Fizz was more nervous than myself. I suppose I wasn't as nervous for I knew quite a few people from Manchester who were present, and I have also been to my fair share of lectures/conferences. Yes - at this stage I was no longer nervous, but Fizz was how I had been on my first ever lecture with the "big mathematicians". (You see it was Fizz's first time sat in the atrium where the staff normally sit and she felt like a fraud!)

No pictures where taken during the first round of lectures for I didn't have a good seat, and I must confess that I found it hard to concentrate for the full duration of the lecture. I did phase out on occasions, but the subject matter, about the fictionalist idea of maths vs realist idea of maths was very interesting. Although I would naively lean towards the fictionalist idea for I enjoyed the certain freedom and creativity that I feel is there, I don't know enough about the subject matter to commit myself to anything.

I did make a few notes on this lecture (which are still in my bag), but an interesting question that was asked at the end was: In an entirely different universe/civilisation, is the idea of mathematics the same as ours? (Don't quote me on the question today but I will edit it tomorrow if different). I like to think that the aliens out there have a very different logic to us and a completely absurd system. [I don't very much like logic, and to answer another question that was asked very later on, I wouldn't mind if that was the first branch of mathematics to depreciate (?). Although I was being a so and so when I muttered to Fizz that Philosophy of Maths should be the first to depreciate so that we can stop asking these silly questions!]

Straight after the first lecture the second one started and this I sort of enjoyed. The speaker was really cool up front, and his "coolness" actually made me think of doing another Galois Group lecture myself! I obviously left planet earth during such thoughts, but I came straight back. The lecture was about mathematics in other cultures which has never actually been published, and I suppose asking why not? The speaker has a book published but its name currently escapes me (something something something published by Princeton Press?) Anyway we left the Greeks out which is something I always don't mind doing. There was a discussion about the Ming dynasty and about how it was thought that musical notes actually decided the destiny of the empire! (An interesting question and answer session followed regarding octaves and what not, and Dr. K ended up getting out of his chair to say something!)

Lunch followed which wasn't a very nice affair for myself due to the fact that I could not stand the sight of food. It looked very appetising but I just couldn't eat. Even now I have yet to eat proper food since last night, and all I did eat was fruit - bananas and pineapple to be precise. I just drank tea (which was very nice if anyone's asking) whenever I got the opportunity; but this meant I was running out of the lecture room a lot, namely whenever one lecture ended and before the other started... .

The positive of lunch was that I could take "embarrassing" photos of people to be used when blackmailing them, and also talk to other people. However I must confess that on this occasion I didn't do much socialising as such. I honestly was feeling quite cack if I may say so myself, and was very jittery (though not nervous). The only time I recall my hand shaking visibly is when I gave my Galois Group lecture, but today it kept on shaking at various intervals. I just ended up staying with the "Manchester crowd" although there was one philosopher sat around our table, who we talked to.

No offence to philosophers, but sometimes I feel that they use too many big words instead of one simple word. I like telling stories and building up the finale, but you have to know when your readers might be confused. In maths adding most details in proofs helps an awful lot, whereas in philosophy I would possibly want to avoid this detail! I actually eagerly await examples when talking to philosophers, for they are better able to make sense in my head than "objective and subjective things" and lots of other words put together to complicate things for me when not feeling 100%.

Once again I must stress that my comments are very naive for I don't think I've ever been around this many philosophers before, and I can't be expected to say nice things about them when they give snide looks to mathematics! :D Honestly speaking I think philosophy to maths is like applied maths or stats to a pure mathematician. (Well let us say like stats is to myself!) Or would maths is to physics be a better example?

After lunch it was quite intense. Three lectures were scheduled straight after another, and Fizz and myself had relocated so that I could take photos (which I took plenty-ish of). The first lecture, I confess, did not make much sense to me. I felt that it was a very interesting lecture (hence why I took pictures of certain slides to observe later), but it was taking me too much effort to stay on earth. I tried my hardest to keep tuned in and I made some notes on the lecture too, but on the top of my head I can't remember that much.

It was something to do with how we perceive certain shapes like the circle or the straight line, and whether two circles who pass through the others centre have an intersection point. I mused to myself that they won't have an intersection point if the circle, although still equal, were placed on different levels (i.e one on top of the other) but that wasn't the point. I won't say more on curves in proof for I risk sounding completely ignorant, but during this lecture I thought to myself: next time I'm going to make a video of the lectures! Considering today was my sixth day of the week, I was struggling as it was so I had to have a dip in form some time. If I video certain lectures then I can always watch them again so I won't ever think - "If only I had paid attention". [I seem to be making plenty of excuses today... .]

At the end of that lecture I had to quickly rush out and then back in again, so I missed the intro of the fourth lecture. This lecturer used the board and had no presentation but he didn't need one. His lecture was more of a conversation connecting certain things, but once again I was out of the count. I desperately wanted to understand certain things being said, but a million parts of what was said went whoosh over my head due to the fact that I'm an undergraduate and have yet to study certain things. It was about incompleteness and Gödel's theorems, and how such things have impacted pure mathematics.

I was going to ask the speaker if he was a number theorist, for he seemed to really have something "against" them (or perhaps I was trying to imagine a situation which would keep me entertained)! Modular forms and elliptic things were thrown about casually and I was pleased to recognise the word abelian! I did make notes again, but this lecture wasn't really for my level so my "dumb look" was very useful.

For the final lecture I did try to rejuvenate myself and a small tea break helped. However I decided to take photos of certain slides for I wasn't able to read and understand them. The final speaker was David Corfield and he mentioned his blog during his talk, which I have visited on rare occasions. This did slightly reduce my blurriness, and me being the bean I am, didn't miss my chance to mutter to Dr. Coleman (who also happened to attend the workshop) that my blog was better! Surely you can't disagree for where else do you get to read about someone as foolish as me, well making a fool out of myself? (By the way I meant better\{maths content!}!)

Fine, I'll retract that comment if you insist. ;) I guess it is a bad thing that I remembered the blog comments first, but that's because of my naive claim, which amused me for a short period of time! I made a few notes during the lecture, but since I am no longer living in the real world, I can't comment on what was said about the reality of Mathematics! I'm drifting away now, but my follow up post should hopefully contain pictures of certain slides and more concrete facts about the lectures that took place (after from the very advanced one of course).

This concluded the five hour marathon after which a panel discussion followed. I once again managed to escape for a few minutes, and upon my return sat and watched the discussion. It was quite amusing to watch at certain times, but more of this in the next post.

Although I wanted to stay at the end and talk to other mathematicians, sadly I had to get going. I probably wouldn't have done anyone a favour by sticking around, for I was feeling the effects of not eating. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and this has made me more determined to study maths further. Sat there, probably the dumbest of the lot and right at the bottom of the hierarchy (which were mentioned in the last lecture), I didn't feel out of place. I didn't mind not understanding material for I had been warned of that before hand. What mattes is that I didn't really feel like an undergraduate, and it didn't matter that I was one. [Fizz, another course mate who came later, and myself were the only undergraduates around but I suppose my lecturers being around might have helped me feel relaxed].

Now to name and shame! Well when I went to my first ever such event, a commenter gave me a little idea. Today I had my camera with me, and in Chip Hazard's words: there was no mercy. I did my best to look out for lecturers "resting their eyes" for at least one second! In third place was the first speaker (Mary Leng!) who I didn't manage to capture, but I found this amusing nonetheless for she had said that she was glad to get her talk out of the way as she was looking forward to the others! In second place it was Dr. Khudaverdian who once again evaded my camera, for as soon as I got the zoom sorted he opened his eyes.

In first place *drum roll please* it's none other than Dr. Coleman! Now I did manage to capture him and that photo might find itself in another article... . Well I'm not going to hesitate in my evil plans for on two occasions I had to wrestle my camera from Dr. C as he tried to delete pictures! It was a struggle indeed for I don't know my own strength at times(!), and I was also worried about my camera. On the second instance, after I had perhaps stupidly shown him the photo of him sleeping, he was very keen on deleting that photo and I'm glad his coffee didn't spill as we fought over the camera. I became worried as he went to the menu, that he would format the whole card! [As evil plans go, I'm open to suggestions!]

Well my lecturers have been setting a fine example for myself, and I definitely will do my best to follow them. I do wonder how a certain member of the audience was able to pay attention to all five lectures and then ask questions about all of them! Well he wasn't a mathematician by profession which might explain it (!), and he also might have had no other lectures to attend during the week. I suppose those people who have busy weeks (my lecturers for example) are perhaps justified in resting their eyes for at least one second. I didn't dare rest my eyes, for as was later proven, I was out cold straight away for quite some time!

So all in all it was a pleasant day and I expect another post on this marathon workshop.

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