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The Joy of Abstraction (with a gentle approach to category theory)

by

Professor Kimmo Rosenthal
Union College

May 17, 2016
5:00 pm
Bailey Hall 207

Refreshments will be served in Bailey Hall 204 4:45pm


Abstract:

Can the old dictum “art for art’s sake” be replaced by “math for math’s sake”? In this day and age, when relevance, applicability, and connections with other disciplines are touted as paramount, is there still a place for purely abstract mathematics viewed more as a rigorous and aesthetic intellectual art form, to be valued for its beauty alone? Why does something new, especially if it is abstract and does not conform to the accepted point of view, provoke “fear and trembling”, if not outright hostility? Georg Cantor, the founder of set theory, was called “a corrupter of youth” and his work “a disease”, and category theory was labelled as “abstract nonsense”. This seminar talk will be a bricolage of historical observations, personal anecdotes and, of course, some mathematics with a modest and hopefully accessible introduction to category theory. Math 199 students may find it interesting that there is a “more abstract” approach to 199 than they have encountered, with questions such as “how can you describe a one-element set without discussing elements”?

“Mathematics, like music, can dispense with the universe.” Jorge Luis Borges

“There is another world, and it is in this one.” Paul Eluard

“An explorer’s task is to postulate the existence of a land beyond the known land. Whether or not he finds that land and brings back news of it is unimportant. He may choose to lose himself in it forever and add one more to the sum of unexplored lands.” Gerald Murnane


For additional information, send e-mail to math@union.edu or call (518) 388-6246.
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