Twice a year, UW-Madison hosts an seminar dedicated to interactions between mathematics and other academic areas. The only rule is that the speaker must be either a non-mathematician with something to say about mathematics or a mathematician with something to say about non-mathematics. The speakers so far:
Title: "The Hyperbolic Crocheted Reef Project: Art/Math/Ecology"
Margaret Wertheim will explore the natural synergies between the arts and sciences. Wertheim, a science writer, and her twin sister, Christine, a scholar-artist, founded the L.A.-based Institute for Figuring (IFF) to advance the esthetic appreciation of scientific concepts, from the natural physics of snowflakes and fractals to human constructs such as Islamic mosaics, string figures, and weaving. The IFF champions the idea that beauty lies at the intersections of nature and physics, art and math. Wertheim is a compelling speaker who offers a heady mix of the "hard" and the "soft." The IFF's most beguilingly strange project is a coral reef constructed entirely by crochet hook. The Hyperbolic Crocheted Reef Project demonstrates a happy congruence between the mathematical phenomena modeled perfectly by the creatures of the reef and the traditionally feminine craft of crocheting, which is uniquely suited to modeling hyperbolic space.
Title: "The Politics of Numbers"
The U.S. decennial census is mandated in the federal constitution as a mechanism to apportion seats in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College and to provide the states with local area tabulations for redistricting legislative districts. It is thus both a political instrument and a counting mechanism. The interaction between the technical methods of counting and accurately, precisely, and efficiently and the political impact of those technical methods has created census controversies over the centuries. The talk will discuss several historical examples, including controversies over apportionment in the 1920s; the undercount correction methods of the 1960s to the 1990s, and lay understanding of probability sampling. The role of statisticians, mathematicians, and politicians in clarifying or obfuscating the technical and political issues will be addressed.
Title: "Computer Vision in Art"
New rigorous computer algorithms have been used to shed light on a number of recent controversies in the study of art. For example, illumination estimation and shape-from-shading methods developed for robot vision and digital photograph forensics can reveal the accuracy and the working methods of masters such as Jan van Eyck and Caravaggio. Computer box-counting methods for estimating fractal dimension have been used in authentication studies of paintings attributed to Jackson Pollock. Computer wavelet analysis has been used for attribution of the contributors in Perugino's Holy Family and works of Vincent van Gogh. Computer methods can dewarp the images depicted in convex mirrors depicted in famous paintings such as Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini portrait to reveal new views into artists' studios and shed light on their working methods. New principled, rigorous methods for estimating perspective transformations outperform traditional and ad hoc methods and yield new insights into the working methods of Renaissance masters. Sophisticated computer graphics recreations of tableaus allow us to explore "what if" scenarios, and reveal the lighting and working methods of masters such as Caravaggio.
Title "Nicollo Tartaglia's Poetic Solution to the Cubic Equation."
Niccolo Tartaglia's (1449-1557) solution to solving cubic equations, which renowned mathematician and physician Girolamo Cardano wanted but Tartaglia resisted, led to one of the first intellectual property cases in Western history. Eventually, Tartaglia agreed to give Cardano what he so desired, but only if the latter promised he would not publish it. Cardano promised, and Tartaglia sent him the solution. Wasting little time, however, Cardano published the solution (along with a 'general' solution that he himself developed). Tartaglia was, not surprisingly, furious and began a vicious battle with Cardano's assistant, Ludovico Ferrari (Cardano refused to engage Tartaglia directly). But vitriolic polemics aside, there is something else rather curious about this ordeal: the solution Tartaglia gave Cardano was encrypted in a poem. This talk looks at the motives behind his "poetic solution" and what it says about the close relationship between 'poeisis' and 'mathesis' in this period of mathematics' history.
Title: "Geometry and Music."
In my talk, I will explain how to translate the basic concepts of music theory into the language of contemporary geometry. I will show that musicians commonly abstract away from five types of musical transformations, the "OPTIC transformations," to form equivalence classes of musical objects. Examples include "chord," "chord type," "chord progression," "voice leading," and "pitch class." These equivalence classes can be represented as points in a family of singular quotient spaces, or orbifolds: for example, two-note chords live on a Mobius strip whose boundary acts like a mirror, while four-note chord-types live on a cone over the real projective plane. Understanding the structure of these spaces can help us to understand general constraints on musical style, as well as specific pieces. The talk will be accessible to non-musicians, and will exploit interactive 3D computer models that allow us to see and hear music simultaneously.
Title: "How to disagree about how to disagree"
When one encounters disagreement about the truth of a factual claim from a trusted advisor who has access to all of one's evidence, should that move one in the direction of the advisor's view? Conciliatory views on disagreement say "yes, at least a little." Such views are extremely natural, but they give bad advice when the issue under dispute is disagreement itself. So conciliatory views stand refuted. But despite first appearances, this makes no trouble for partly conciliatory views: views that recommend giving ground in the face of disagreement about many matters, but not about disagreement itself.
Title: "Grothendieck, Braque, and the formality of relativism"
Abstract: Why do we do mathematics? What place does math have in society? In this talk, I'll discuss some striking common ground shared by the mathematics and art of the first two thirds of the 20th century. I'll talk about how this commonality might have arisen and what I think this says about how we should view the discipline of mathematics.
Back to Jordan Ellenberg's home page