Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mario Livio - Is God a Mathematician?

Kepler's was pleased to have scientist Mario Livio enlighten a large audience on February 3, 2009.
Host Bobbi Emel reports:

Dr. Mario Livio, a senior astrophysicist and Head of the Office of Public Outreach at the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute, came to Kepler’s to discuss the ongoing question: is mathematics something that has always existed and humans are just discovering little by little or is it a series of logical connections created by humans?

To answer this question, Dr. Livio brought a PowerPoint presentation and briefly outlined some of the points in his book. Part history, part theory, and part a history of theory, Is God a Mathematician? reviews the historical explorations of such mathematics pioneers as Pythagoras, Galileo, and Gödel along with many others. The conclusion drawn by Dr. Livio is that math has in part always existed and is in part created by humans.

A good speaker, and surprisingly funny, Dr. Livio kept the audience’s attention through examples and stories. As usual, the 80 members of the audience were largely mathematicians, scientists, and general fans of the sciences. Dr. Livio took questions ranging from “How is math applied to a science like biology?” to “How do you overcome the conundrum of using percentages as a comparison?” (Example: If I have 12 apples in one box and 10 apples in another box, it can be said that the larger box has 20% more apples than the smaller box. However, it can also be said that the smaller box has 18% fewer apples than the big box…)

One questioner stepped out of the realm of math for a minute and asked about future plans for the Hubble Space Telescope. Dr. Livio replied that the Hubble is scheduled for another repair mission by the space shuttle in May of this year and it is hoped that the Hubble will then last up to 5 more years. Around 2013 or 2014 another space telescope will be launched. The new telescope, much bigger than the Hubble, will “see” in infrared and will be located much farther out into space than the relatively close orbiting of the earth by the Hubble.

Dr. Keith Devlin, Consulting Professor at Stanford, author of his most recent book, The Unfinished Game, and NPR’s “Math Guy,” introduced Dr. Livio at the event. The two scientists, although aware and admiring of each other’s work, had never met in person and they enjoyed spending a few minutes in discussion before the event started. Although I wasn’t able to overhear, could it be they were debating the question: Is God a mathematician?


Steve Ballmer said...

... enjoying your blog!

Kepler's said...

Thanks so much for your feedback, Steve!