An inspiring mathematician
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An inspiring mathematician
Hello everyone.
Even though my main field of interest is physics, I wouldn't be studying it if I didn't love mathematics too. However, with the exception of my linear algebra professor who is one of the most remarkable people that I have ever met, I haven't had the opportunity to listen to many people who could really show me what's exciting about mathematics. Basically I was wondering if there is a "Richard Feynman" of mathematicians  some legendary person who has been inspiring mathematicians for generations. Any recommendations for books/video lectures will also be appreciated.
Even though my main field of interest is physics, I wouldn't be studying it if I didn't love mathematics too. However, with the exception of my linear algebra professor who is one of the most remarkable people that I have ever met, I haven't had the opportunity to listen to many people who could really show me what's exciting about mathematics. Basically I was wondering if there is a "Richard Feynman" of mathematicians  some legendary person who has been inspiring mathematicians for generations. Any recommendations for books/video lectures will also be appreciated.
 jestingrabbit
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Re: An inspiring mathematician
Shizuo Kakutani is someone I personally found to be inspirational. Any writing of his that I read was always very clear and I find his bio demonstrates another kind of greatness. Still though, he's not really someone I see as a "Feynman of Maths" though, sorry.
edit for grammar.
edit for grammar.
Last edited by jestingrabbit on Sat May 21, 2011 6:53 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: An inspiring mathematician
I can't think of any one person who stands out as a Feynman. That being said, there are some fantastic books about mathematicians out there. One that I recently read was Logicomix, a look at the life of Bertrand Russell. Another good one is Journey Through Genius by William Dunham. It looks at some influential theorems and what was going on in mathematics at the time discovery. That one is focused on the history but it also has quite a few interesting proofs.
Re: An inspiring mathematician
I think the one person who has inspired more people to become mathematicians than any other was Martin Gardner, even though he was not really a mathematician himself.
 doogly
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Re: An inspiring mathematician
I just ordered Sophia Kovalevsky's "Nihilist Girl." Mathematicians who describe themselves as "Nihilist Girl" are just the best ever.
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Re: An inspiring mathematician
In my opinion, Terence Tao is a fantastic teacher of mathematics.

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Re: An inspiring mathematician
The Count. They call him The Count because he loves to count things.
 Cleverbeans
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Re: An inspiring mathematician
If you're looking for modern examples I know of few, however based on your description I think of Jacob Bernoulli who literally inspired generations of mathematicians within his own family, and of course taught Euler who needs no introduction. If you're looking for more of a math populists without requiring a strong research background, I would have to second Martin Gardner.
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Re: An inspiring mathematician
I personally take a lot of inspiration from Edward Frenkel, Timothy Gowers and Doron Zeilberger. They are all worldclass mathematicians who push the envelope in one way or another. Gowers, especially, has done a great deal to popularize mathematics. Also +1 for John Baez.
Edit: Here is a link to Frenkel's Multivariate Calc. Classes  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cw6pHhjhKmk&feature=BFa&list=SP07CF868151394FE3&index=1
Edit: Here is a link to Frenkel's Multivariate Calc. Classes  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cw6pHhjhKmk&feature=BFa&list=SP07CF868151394FE3&index=1
Last edited by dissonant on Sat Jun 04, 2011 4:24 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
 Incompetent
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Re: An inspiring mathematician
Persi Diaconis at Stanford. His is a remarkable story, and he has written some expository articles about math and life. Check him out.
 silverhammermba
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Re: An inspiring mathematician
If we're looking for relatively recent mathematicians with lots of popular appeal, I would go with Erdos and Conway. The former for his notoriety (though I imagine few people can name his contributions) and the latter for the simplicity and novelty of his ideas.
Re: An inspiring mathematician
Re: An inspiring mathematician
Post by Incompetent » Mon May 30, 2011 9:22 am UTC
Peter Cameron: see his website and blog for inspiration.
Thank you  another one for the Bookmarks
Re: An inspiring mathematician
silverhammermba wrote:If we're looking for relatively recent mathematicians with lots of popular appeal, I would go with Erdos and Conway. The former for his notoriety (though I imagine few people can name his contributions) and the latter for the simplicity and novelty of his ideas.
Erdos did have many real contributions, he's not just famous for his notoriousness.
Re: An inspiring mathematician
Nat wrote:silverhammermba wrote:If we're looking for relatively recent mathematicians with lots of popular appeal, I would go with Erdos and Conway. The former for his notoriety (though I imagine few people can name his contributions) and the latter for the simplicity and novelty of his ideas.
Erdos did have many real contributions, he's not just famous for his notoriousness.
Certainly Erdős' contributions to Ramsey Theory and the probabilistic method are wellknown; not to mention his elementary proof of the prime number theorem, from which he originally derived his fame. He also lends his name to a very nice conjecture on aritmetic progressions, which will most likely keep mathematicians busy for many years.
Re: An inspiring mathematician
there are some differences in mathematics and physics 
1. mathematics is far older than physics.
2. mathematics is unchanging. physical theories have undergone many revisions and clean breaks. however, now they also seem to be entering the unchanging phase. whichever way the quantum theory of gravity turns out, nothing is going to displace newtonian physics in the domain it applies. it will be taught even 2000 yrs in future just as euclid's geometry is taught today.
3. mathematics is much less wordy and considerably less pedagogyfriendly than physics. mathamatics is mostly self taught. it is possible for charismatic physicists to inspire new students in physics to the extent just impossible in mathematics. in fact, exposing a new student to a cutting edge mathematician may turn off all the mathematical interest in the student.
5. it is just impossible to translate cutting edge mathematics in english. most of the time it is very tough for a student with 5 year university training to understand the bleeding edge of mathematics. in contrast, even the most recent advances in natural sciences is grounded in reality and at least some english explanation is always possible ... even more so to someone with a 5 year university training in physics.
the above sounds like elitism, but it is not ... i am a doctoral student in mathematics with a very good background in physics. and i am speaking from personal experience.
the upshot of all this is that, there is perhaps no expositor equivalent to Feynman in mathematics. the good expositors of maths are almost always professionally nonmathematicians.
when i was a beginning student, i found a very good book. with just enough mathematics not to dampen interest, without it being reduced to mere verbiage and just enough stories to uplift interest. i would highly recommend this book to anybody who wishes to know more in mathematics. i personally found it so engrossing that i finished it in one sitting. it reads better than most detective novels. in fact, i haven't found ANY novel even half as interesting as this book. and the books is
Gamma by Julian Havil.
1. mathematics is far older than physics.
2. mathematics is unchanging. physical theories have undergone many revisions and clean breaks. however, now they also seem to be entering the unchanging phase. whichever way the quantum theory of gravity turns out, nothing is going to displace newtonian physics in the domain it applies. it will be taught even 2000 yrs in future just as euclid's geometry is taught today.
3. mathematics is much less wordy and considerably less pedagogyfriendly than physics. mathamatics is mostly self taught. it is possible for charismatic physicists to inspire new students in physics to the extent just impossible in mathematics. in fact, exposing a new student to a cutting edge mathematician may turn off all the mathematical interest in the student.
5. it is just impossible to translate cutting edge mathematics in english. most of the time it is very tough for a student with 5 year university training to understand the bleeding edge of mathematics. in contrast, even the most recent advances in natural sciences is grounded in reality and at least some english explanation is always possible ... even more so to someone with a 5 year university training in physics.
the above sounds like elitism, but it is not ... i am a doctoral student in mathematics with a very good background in physics. and i am speaking from personal experience.
the upshot of all this is that, there is perhaps no expositor equivalent to Feynman in mathematics. the good expositors of maths are almost always professionally nonmathematicians.
when i was a beginning student, i found a very good book. with just enough mathematics not to dampen interest, without it being reduced to mere verbiage and just enough stories to uplift interest. i would highly recommend this book to anybody who wishes to know more in mathematics. i personally found it so engrossing that i finished it in one sitting. it reads better than most detective novels. in fact, i haven't found ANY novel even half as interesting as this book. and the books is
Gamma by Julian Havil.
Re: An inspiring mathematician
bitrot wrote:Re: An inspiring mathematician
Post by Incompetent » Mon May 30, 2011 9:22 am UTC
Peter Cameron: see his website and blog for inspiration.
Thank you  another one for the Bookmarks
Funny story. I thought you changed the quoted users name to "Incompetent" and were being sarcastic in your response to his post. I was about to call you out for being a jerk until I realized his name really was "Incompetent".
Yeah.
Re: An inspiring mathematician
Kurushimi » Fri Jun 03, 2011 11:14 pm UTC
"Yeah" hilarious
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