Maths. For some, a stimulating discipline, an exciting mental game, for others, a complex, opaque and difficult world. But whatever our perception or view might be, mathematics is fascinating. As a fundamental discipline at the interface of natural sciences, philosophy and the arts, mathematics deserves its place in the Wright Colloquia for science.
When learning multiplication tables or drawing triangles in geometry classes at primary school, we sometimes get the impression that mathematics is an ancient subject whose development was completed centuries ago. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Mathematics is very much alive, and there is much more to the mathematician’s task than simply bringing it to the fore and applying it to our needs.
Modern mathematics is much more than that. It is a vast, rich and vibrant field of research that is developing in both academia and industry. Many of the most exciting recent discoveries, and the most promising open questions, remain strongly connected to the real world. For example, can we find order in chaos and what are the right tools to study it? Although this may sound abstract, such tools are crucial for many applied fields, for example, they allow the most accurate weather forecasts to be made.
What are the mathematical laws that prevent us from going back in time, or in the language of maths, what is irreversibility? It is enough to consider the fact that the collision between two billiard balls seems to be reversible, whereas the collision between two cars is not, to realize that such a question is not limited to the abstract world of mathematics.
And then, how can we characterize the different scales of magnitude of our universe? What changes when we move from the scale of elementary particles to that of stars and galaxies? Is there a mathematical theory that explains why nature seems so radically different between the worlds of the infinitely small and the infinitely large?
Another remarkable aspect of mathematics is its particularly fruitful interaction with another fundamental field, that of quantum theory. Mathematicians have, for example, developed tools for studying music that are proving to be very powerful in understanding quantum phenomena. Quantum theory, for its part, helps mathematicians to understand and classify something as seemingly prosaic as marine knots.
All these questions will be addressed by five of the most eminent mathematicians of our time. Every evening of the week from 2 to 6 November 2020, at Uni Dufour, the speakers will discuss topics such as the butterfly effect, the strange observation that it is easy to mix two liquids but almost impossible to separate them once they are joined together, so-called toy models, and the music of shapes.
The 2020 Wright Colloquium has set itself the goal of unveiling some of the secrets of this fascinating discipline and offering the public a glimpse of what they might have missed since their last maths lesson at school.