Wild About Math! Making Math fun and accessible


Matthew Watkins – Inspired by Math #25

This podcast is quite different from the previous twenty four. Matthew Watkins and I dive into the sense of wonder and awe that is underneath the mundane experience of math that so many people never get below the surface of. The conversation is deep and a bit mystical at times but I completely agree with Matthew when he claims that the relationship of mathematicians and artists to their subject may not be as different as we imagine.

I absolutely loved Volume 1 of the "Secrets of Creation" trilogy, "The Mystery of the Prime Numbers." I bragged about how it was a remarkable fairy tale for children of all ages in my review here. I've not read volumes 2 and 3 (out soon) but I look forward to devouring them as well.

You might enjoy this email interview that Shecky Riemann did with Matthew Watkins.

Enjoy the podcast!

About Matthew Watkins

From the Secrets of Creation web-site:

Matthew Watkins completed a PhD in mathematics in 1994, but has always been more interested in trying to understand what mathematics "is" and "where it comes from" (as well as trying to explain it to his non-mathematical friends) than pursuing a conventional research or teaching career.

The second half of the 1990s were spent living as a nomadic musician (he plays the saz, a seven-stringed Turkish instrument), contemplating the underlying nature of reality while wandering the British Isles, busking, picking fruit, planting trees, visiting megalithic sites, etc. The music continues, documented here.

In 1999 he had a little maths and physics reference book published (also illustrated by Matt Tweed) as part of the popular Wooden Books series. This has since been licensed by Walker & Co., NYC and last time he checked, it had been translated into at least half a dozen languages.

Since 2000, he's been an Honorary Fellow in Exeter University's mathematics department (which keeps changing its name, but is currently part of the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences). During this time, as well as having done a bit of teaching work, he initiated and has been since been curating the online Number Theory and Physics Archive and the related (but more popularly accessible) site Inexplicable Secrets of Creation, a project which naturally led to the idea of this series of books.

More information is available at Matthew Watkins' homepage.

About the Secrets of Creation

From the trilogy site:

Volume 1, The Mystery of the Prime Numbers (published June 2010) begins by looking at the role of numbers in human cultures, particularly the extent to which they have come to dominate modern Western thinking. If this "number system" is so central to our view of reality, the author suggests, and so many of us give it so little thought, maybe we should have a closer look at it. Prime numbers are then introduced, along with the question everyone seems to ask: "is there a pattern in them?". The issue of what constitutes a pattern is then considered, before the puzzling "splatter" of primes along the number line is explained in terms of the uncoiling of a particularly beautiful spiral. The extent to which the actual arrangement of primes deviates from this "approximate" pattern is examined next, and this "deviation" is revealed to be concealing an infinite collection of wave-like forms. These "waveforms" are carefully explained, again in terms of spirals. In fact, in the absence of a better name (these objects only being of interest to a relatively small band of mathematicians, who communicate in equations), the author has chosen to call them spiral waves. Like a conventional wave (a "sine wave"), they have something like a "frequency". The frequencies of the first handful of spiral waves are presented: a mysterious string of awkward-looking numbers, raising the mind-boggling question where could these particular numbers, lurking within the structure of reality and entirely unknown for almost all of history, possibly have come from?

Information about volumes 2 and 3 can be found at the trilogy site.

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