Welcome to the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) blog. The IMA is the UK's learned and professional society for mathematics and its applications. We promote mathematics research, education and careers, and the use of mathematics in business, industry and commerce. Among our activities we produce academic journals, organise conferences and engage with government.

In this blog we will publish mathematical articles and news to reflect the interests of our members who come from a multiplicity of different organisations including university academics, industrial mathematicians, financiers, school teachers, scientists, civil servants etc.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Exploring uses of mathematics in fiction with Tony Mann

Tony Mann gave a lecture to the IMA East Midlands Branch last night, 'From Sylvia Plath to Bad Sex: uses of mathematics in fiction', in the Ken Edwards Building at the University of Leicester.

Tony looked at a variety of ways in which fiction has involved mathematics and mathematicians.This included fiction by mathematicians and authors who once trained as mathematicians, fiction based on mathematical ideas, fiction using mathematical structures and fiction using real and fictional mathematicians as characters.

At one point Tony spoke about the use of historical mathematicians in fiction. He gave several examples of use of Newton in fiction, some of which were more accurate and fairer than others. Since some books are written by authors who also write non-fiction, and some mix factual and fictional elements, this raised some questions which I found interesting: Does it matter how historically correct fictional portrayals of real mathematicians are? How reasonable is it to fictionalise a living person? Does the audience always realise what they are reading is fictional?

Tony maintains a list of categorised mathematical fiction on his website, originally compiled alongside his article 'From Sylvia Plath's The bell jar to the Bad Sex Award: a partial account of the uses of mathematics in fiction' (2010, BSHM Bulletin: Journal of the British Society for the History of Mathematics, 25(2):58-66), and recommended another list by Alex Kasman.

You can view a recording of a similar talk, 'Tony Mann: Some Uses Of Mathematics In Fiction', given by Tony to the London Knowledge Lab Maths-Art Seminar.


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