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On NHPR today I managed to sneak in the plot of a science-fiction short story I tried to write in my 20s, when I thought I could be the Next Great American Novelist.

The plot: Astronauts land on an asteroid and find the Platonic Solids – the actual perfect cube, sphere, dodacahedron, etc., that all human efforts seek to emulate. This solves the ancient debate of whether math is created or invented, and thus … alas, I could never figure out what happened next, so the story fizzled out. That turned out to be an apt metaphor for my literary efforts, which went down in flames after a friend pointed out that all of my characters sounded just like me.

I mentioned this, obliquely, while talking with Peter Biello for a pre-recorded break on All Things Considered, as I do every week. (He runs the 3-minute-ish chats it right before 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. each Tuesday, and puts some of them up on the NHPR website.)

It came up because I was previewing with him an unusual event I’m helping moderate Wednesday, June 8 – a talk called “What Is This Thing Called Math?”, after a showing of “The Man Who Knew Infinity” at Red River Theaters in Concord.  We’ll use the biopic of the Indian mathematician Ramanujan to discuss what math is and, yes, whether it’s invented or discovered.

It should be – well, different. I have no idea how many people will show up. Unlike Science Cafe, you have to buy a ticket (for the movie, not the talk) and it is about math, not generally a massive audience drawer. I sure how I don’t end up talking just to the other panelist, Ian Underwood.



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