Thursday, February 20, 2014

ALOUD at Central Library: Love, Mathematics, and the X-Files

Edward Frankel and Chris Carter Photo by Gary Leonard
Edward Frankel and Chris Carter
Photo by Gary Leonard

At first glance, one might wonder what Love, Mathematics, and The X-Files might have in common. This ALOUD event held on February 13th, 2014 - the day before Valentine's Day of course - isn't your average picture of romance, but perhaps it should be. Taking in the conversation between mathematician and author Edward Frankel and The X-Files creator Chris Carter (who also recently launched the excellent pilot The After on Amazon Pilot Season),  it was easy to understand the deep mystery of math and in its importance in our everyday lives. 

Edward Frenkel recently published Love & Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality, a book that discusses the wonders of how math exists across cultures, time, and space as well as telling his own journey of becoming a mathematician.  The book begins with the phrase "There's a secret world out there" (p. 1).  Those familiar with The X-Files franchise might align that statement with the iconic phrase from the series: "The truth is out there."

Supporting connections to the television show, during Frenkel's presentation he offers that "we should approach math like The X-Files."  He argues that we shouldn't be satisfied by what we know, that we should "waken to [math's] hidden reality."  One of the major statements he makes is how no one owns math - it can't be patented - and that we should advocate for children to have "the right to bear mathematical arms."  During his conversation with Chris Carter, Frenkel often emphasized that what we teach in our classrooms is limited to a small segment of math - that we don't teach the concepts that might entice students to further their studies in math and understand its relevance.  Building on his ideas of education, Frenkel argues that the "kids are ready" because "no one [has] told them yet what they can't or cannot be."  He situates the problem in the adults, who need to change because "it's the adults who decide on the curriculum." 

I'm sure people are no strangers to the phrase "when am I going to use this?" attached to math classes.  But Frankel shows how math is everywhere - in the very details of what makes our world go round...both literally and figuratively.  It's in our economics, our physics, our digital data and security.  Our current, general understanding of math, he argues, is limited - it's like teaching an art class where all you learn is how to paint a fence. 

Throughout the evening, Carter and Frenkel approached a number of topics related to math.  It was an easy conversation where questions approached heavy-hitting topics as well as amusing ones.  Regarding God and nature in math, Frenkel supports the space for spirituality in math, citing Einstein's observation of how learning the laws of nature enabled you to feel that spirit. Resonating the mystery of math, when Carter asked whether math lives in nature, Frenkel offers that it "lives somewhere." 
Maybe it's because I've always been more Mulder than Scully, but I came away from this event believing in math's importance and mystery, seeing it as a subject worth endless pursuits.  And - in the end - isn't that what love is all about?

-Charity Tran, Editor


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