Interview on Irish radio

by admin on September 10, 2012

Want to hear me talking about something other than chess?

Last week the Irish radio station, RTÉ Lyric FM, broadcast a three-part interview with me on a program called The Culture File, hosted by Luke Clancy. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to record this interview about my book, The Universe in Zero Words, because one of my main objectives in the book is to show how mathematics interacts with our culture.

I enjoyed talking with Luke, because he really “got it.” He had obviously read The Universe in Zero Words carefully, and asked many incisive questions. Luke, too, had a great time in our interview! He had intended just to record just a five-minute segment for the radio, but our conversation ended up lasting almost an hour. Out of this he distilled three five-minute segments that played on the air, plus a fourth “bonus” segment that is only available online.

Even if you don’t live in Ireland, you can hear what I had to say by clicking on the following links:

Podcast 1: I talk about Henri Poincaré’s discovery of chaos in the 1890s, why the culture of that era was not prepared to assimilate such a discovery, and why it was much easier for mathematicians to make sense of it in the 1970s and 1980s.

Podcast 2: Here Luke asked me to talk about the simplest of all equations, 1+1 = 2, and why it is not as simple as it looks. Also, I talked about the discovery of non-Euclidean geometry. In my book (and in the podcast) I argue that if whales had developed geometry, they would see non-Euclidean geometry as natural, and our Euclidean geometry as strange.

Podcast 3: I talk about the Black-Scholes equation, which is used to set market prices for financial derivatives, and which is based on the same mathematics that underlies the diffusion of gases. I also talk about a fatal flaw in (the original version of) this equation, a flaw that helped bring about the credit crisis of 2007.

Podcast 4 (of 3!): In this online extra, I talk about William Rowan Hamilton, one of the greatest Irish mathematicians (an appropriate topic for Irish radio!). I also speculate on the “Promethean” quality of mathematics, meaning its ability to create entire new worlds.

Please tune in and leave a comment!

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Willy September 11, 2012 at 8:30 am

You did a great job making complicated concepts approachable. I will never forget 1+1=2! What a great subject for conversation and laughing. What other examples do you have that illustrate this principle, besides math on another planet? Thank you for sharing these podcasts! I have been enjoying your blogs for quite some time now.


admin September 11, 2012 at 8:48 am

Hi Willy, Glad you enjoyed the interview! Of course part of the point of the interview is to make you want to buy the book… Then you’ll find out some other examples. The book is called “The Universe in Zero Words.” I have to admit that the examples aren’t all as easy as 1+1 = 2. But for example, I have a chapter on the Pythagorean theorem that talks about the strange Pythagorean cult, and also why you would know it as the “gou-gu theorem” if you grew up in ancient China. I also have a chapter about cubic equations with the story of a mathematical “duel at 20 paces” that took place in fifteenth-century Italy.


Praveen September 13, 2012 at 11:49 pm

This reminds me in a vague way of the Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy, somehow. The thought has totally short circuited me at the moment. Apparently, Poincare was also among the first to work out asymptotics and perturbative expansions. God bless his dead soul! Nice podcasts, Dr. Mackenzie.


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