Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Taking In the Forest From Above...

(via Wikipedia)
As most have heard by now, Robert Langlands, at age 81 (and it’s always great to hear of an 81-year-old mathematician receiving an award! ;), is the winner of the 2018 Abel Prize in mathematics.  Robert’s work, the Langlands Program, is fascinating even if all you grasp is the broad outline of what it attempts to do, without much understanding of its complex details.  Here are 3 of the general audience pieces already out on this momentous occasion:

Alex Bellos in The Guardian:

Kevin Hartnett at Quanta:

Davide Castelvecchi for Nature:

I suspect over the next week there will be additional excellent articles appearing on this subject (I may or may not add other links here as they come along.)

For those with the background, a longer, more technical piece from AMS here:

For any who've never read it, or are unfamiliar with it, Ed Frenkel's "Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality" introduces readers, to the Langlands Program, Ed's specialty.

And rightly or wrongly, this whole unification of mathematics notion, reminds me of a favorite quote from Keith Devlin I’ve used multiple times before (from an interview he once did for the NPR program “On Being” — and, not meant to imply anything about his own specific knowledge of Langlands):

"...that's when I became a mathematician; that's what I stumbled on at age 15 or 16 when here I was learning all this mathematics because I needed it. I had a utilitarian view of mathematics. I was learning it because I needed to solve the equations because I was going to be solving them in physics. And then, at the age of about 16 or 17, it all fit because it all came together in my mind. It was no longer this disjointed collection of techniques you could use to solve problems. It all fell into place, into this wonderful landscape. It was as if I'd been stumbling around in a forest, and suddenly I've climbed to the top of a tree and looked out and thought, this is the most beautiful place in the world. You can't tell it when you're down in the trees, which I had been, but the moment you reach an elevation where it all falls into place and you can see the whole topographic display in front of you, then the beauty is incredible. And the moment I discovered it, I said, um, I want to study mathematics. And I've been studying it ever since."

(...not sure of the specific credit for creation of this fun map, that has been passed around a lot, or I'd give credit?)

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