Mathematics in film and fiction
Class meetings: Th 6:00-7:00pm, 939 Evans Hall
Office hours: TuTh 11:00am-12:00noon, 821 Evans Hall
Course Control Number: 55207
"Something's going on. It has to do with that number.
There's an answer in that number." Maximilian Cohen, in π (1998).
This course will offer an exploration of mathematics through the lens of a camera, the stage of a theater, and the language of a book. Can mathematics as a science, the thrill of its pursuit, or the idiosyncrasies of its practitioners be accurately portrayed in these media? Is such an accurate portrayal at all necessary or important? What societal beliefs and misconceptions are reflected in the works of literature and film dealing with mathematics? What is behind the stereotype of a crazy mathematician? How can one tell a compelling story about math to a non-mathematical audience? We will meet once a week to watch, read, argue about, and (try to) understand the mathematics within the world of literature and film. Besides reading and viewing, the students will be expected to take a very active part in class discussion and to make short presentations, which could include critique of a movie fragment, analysis of a literary text, or even a short mathematical proof. This class is intended for students with substantial interest in mathematics, film and literature.
- 08/23: Introduction. Class content. Formation of presentation groups.
- 08/30: Breaking the code, presented by Jessica and Jocelyn.
Themes: The tragic and amazing life of Alan Turing:
unorthodox thinking patterns and unorthodox life choices.
What are the Turing test and the Turing machine?
What is "genius"? Infatuation with genius in popular
- 09/05: Fermat's room, presented by Tony and Gene.
Themes: Puzzles in and outside mathematics.
What is math intelligence? Rivalry among mathematicians: the good, the bad and the ugly.
Long-standing open problems in mathematics:
important fundamental questions or difficult puzzles?
- 09/13: XKCD, presented by Lucas and Matt.
Themes: nerdy humor, nerdy chic, and the new (nerdy) cool.
- 09/20: Paul Erdős,
the Man who loved only
numbers by Paul Hoffman.
Themes: the man, the mathematician, and the myth.
- 09/27: Paul Erdős:
N is a number: a conversation with film director
George Paul Csicsery.
- 10/04: Logicomix, presented by
Franklin and Justin.
Themes: What was the foundational quest in mathematics all about?
How Bertrand Russell and others
shaped the quest. Did it end? If so, how?
Logic and mathematics. Mathematics and insanity.
- 10/11: Logicomix: a conversation with computer scientist and writer
- 10/18: A beautiful mind,
presented by Yujing and Jessica.
Themes: Mathematics and insanity. What is genius (once again) and how
it is portrayed.
Comparisons between the film and
the biographic novel about
- 10/25: 21
presented by Lisa and Eileen, with guest appearance of mathematician
Themes: Card games, gambling, and probability theory.
The scheme implemented in "21".
Down the House and the real story behind the film.
- 11/01: Zodiac
presented by Gustavo and Lance. Themes: codes, mysteries, and the making of the film.
With guest appearance of film director, producer, and Dean of
Berkeley Digital Film Institute Patrick Kriwanek.
- 11/08: Good Will Hunting
presented by Sean.
Themes: what do unrecognized genius, psychotherapy and advanced
math have in common?
The mathematics that made it into the film and the mathematics that didn't.
- 11/15: Inside Job: a
conversation with economist and social scientist
Themes: the mathematics and game
theory of today's financial institutions.
- 11/29: Pi presented by Aaron and Miriam.
Themes: recognizing patterns in the world through mathematics and artificial intelligence:
dream or nightmare?
Film resources in Berkeley:
Last modified: Nov 5, 2012