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Mykonos witnessed the gathering of many minds at the first Mathematics and Narrative conference, held here from the 12th of July till the 15th. Participating in the event were various specialists from many fields, which included historians, writers, artists and mathematicians from around the world. They were all in agreement of the fact that the time for the unification of mathematics and narrative had finally arrived, mainly due to the immense insulation of mathematics from mainstream human culture.
Organized by Thales and Friends, the event aimed at further exploration of the field of paramathematics, which was a confluence of narration and mathematics, which basically made use of narration to explore and convey mathematical ideas to people.
The entire basis behind the meeting of people from various disciplines was to avoid the refinement that discussions with people from the same field bring, instead when varied minds came together to discuss the confluence of narration and mathematics, the result was spectacular. Each speaker contributed his/her expertise and point of view regarding the theory, this formed an accumulation of myriad ideas which were interwoven by the similar goal of bringing about a difference in the way world absorbs mathematics.
The meeting, lasting 4 days, featured 30 lectures, and each was delivered to packed halls. The audience was as diverse as the field of specialists attending the conference, ranging from adults to children. The 60 participants did not create a single dull moment, with lectures featuring everything from oral narratives, thought narratives, plays, autobiographies, novels, non technical expositions of mathematics and its various problems and so much more.
Emphasizing on the interrelationship of mathematics and narrative, the speakers held the audience’s attention, with each contributing something unique and interesting to the topic. The major factor was that the specialists genuinely made an effort to connect to a broader audience and mostly succeeded. The professional mathematicians made a great effort in this direction and did everything possible to ensure their presentations were both informative and fun. Their main point was that solving a mathematical problem is actually quite similar to being immersed in a thoughtful and interesting story.
The historians in the group had the easiest task, as their subject is easily relatable to the layman. The lectures by historians mainly aimed to show how narratives, be it about progress or travel or even tragic death in history has played a significant role in defining mathematical problems and the various strategies that were used to devise them. The speakers were extremely capable as they used cognitive science, anthropology, evolutionary theory and even semiotics to establish a connection between narrative and mathematics.
Amir Alexander, who began the conference with introductory remarks on the topic, was a significant force behind organizing the conference and agrees that there is a need for such a theory, as currently the “gaping chasm” between mathematics and culture is quite astonishing and hoped that this meeting would go a long way to prove mathematics was in fact an inseparable part of human culture.
“I think the meeting was a success as the participants dared to step beyond their professional affiliations and move onto a common ground, of narrative and mathematics”, concluded Amir Alexander. Having only touched the tip of the iceberg, this group of paramathematicians seem geared up to explore much deeper and hopefully change the way we perceive mathematics.