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March 5, 2015

Mathematics Without Apologies

Posted by David Corfield

Since I had reviewed the manuscript for Princeton University Press eighteen months ago, this week I received my complementary copy of Mathematics Without Apologies by Michael Harris.

Michael, as most people here will know, is a number theorist whose successes include, with Richard Taylor, the proof of the local Langlands conjecture for the general linear group GL n(K)GL_n(K) in characteristic 0. But alongside being a prize-winning mathematician, he also likes to think hard about the nature of mathematics. He spoke at a conference I co-organised, Two Streams in the Philosophy of Mathematics, and I’ve met up with him on a number of other occasions, including the Delphi meeting with John. He’s extremely well placed then to give an account of the life of a current mathematician with, as suggested by the book’s subtitle, Portrait of a problematic vocation, all its peculiarities.

I’ll be re-reading the book once term is over, and say more then, but for now those wanting to find out more can read a Q&A with the author, and drafts of some chapters available here. Michael has also set up an associated blog, named after the book.

Concerning mathematical research itself, Michael was an organiser of the recent MSRI program New Geometric Methods in Number Theory and Automorphic Forms. It seems there were plenty of points of contact with the concurrent program Geometric Representation Theory, of the kind described by David Ben-Zvi here. It would be great to hear some reflections on what happened there.

Posted at March 5, 2015 9:09 AM UTC

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Re: Mathematics Without Apologies

His book provides excellent evidence for the separation of pure and applied mathematics into separate departments!

Posted by: Prof. David A. Edwards on March 5, 2015 12:17 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Mathematics Without Apologies

I bet it will be fun to read. I had a great conversation with him walking around the northern edge of Paris last spring. I hope his sense of humor finds its way into the book.

Posted by: John Baez on March 14, 2015 1:12 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Mathematics Without Apologies

Yes, it does. For example, talking about the movie Pi:

Once in New York City, near Pi’s neighborhood, a friend’s neighbors, to whom I had been introduced as a mathematician, told me how fortunate they felt to meet someone from such a sensitive profession. In those days, before the dark forces finance mathematics serves had transformed lower Manhattan’s sociocultural landscape, it was still possible to be moved by a sentiment expressed so unaffectedly, even by a couple marginally integrated into society who, my friend later told me, practiced domestic violence almost on a daily basis.

Posted by: John Baez on March 14, 2015 1:17 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

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