Bridges (part 3)

Good news! I ended up feeling much better on Thursday morning, and I was able to resume participation in the conference (and related social activities)! This was a HUGE answer to prayer, as I was quite unsure how long I’d be sequestered in my room. While I did miss a whole day of presentations and networking, I was still able to engage in the conference to an extent that I feel was truly beneficial. I am speaking in the past tense because the conference has now officially ended (as it is Friday night). There is still the conference excursion scheduled for tomorrow, but I am not planning to attend (it was a bit expensive, and I wanted to preserve some extra time to work with Enrico).

So, what has happened since Thursday morning? Well, the plenary talks Thursday morning were quite interesting. The first was something of a commercial for the research activities that take place at the University of Jyväskylä, but it was genuinely interesting to hear about the research areas they consider to be their greatest strengths. Math was not specifically mentioned, but I can attest to the high caliber of their faculty working in geometric function theory and related topics :-). The second talk was pretty much a juggling and top-spinning routine with mathematically relevant commentary. It was a bit scattered, in the sense that there were few and cursory explanations of the mathematics involved, but the juggling was nevertheless fun to watch. Thirdly, Riane Koskima gave a more philosophically-minded talk about life in a digital age. He mentioned Pokemon Go, which made me smile (I had the game on my phone for about one day, and then had to delete it out of fear I’d soon be addicted…).

After lunch there was an inspiring talk by Kirsi Peltonen about a multidisciplinary course she has taught a few times at Aalto University. She team-taught the course with artists and architects, and her students ended up producing some very nice works of mathematically informed artwork. Here’s a link to information about the course. I had previously known of Kirsi’s mathematical research, and briefly met her at the 2013 Nevanlinna Colloquium in Helsinki, but I did not know of her interest in the arts until now.

During the early afternoon I met with Enrico while also attending one or two talks. We exchanged some ideas for research – I am hoping at least one will blossom into some interesting results. During the later afternoon, I attended three talks pertaining to the geometry of three-dimensional polyhedra. I learned a new term during the third talk: Petrie Polygon. Fun stuff.

After the talks were over for the day, I ended up having dinner with two gentlemen from Holland, Walt van Ballegooijen and Dieter (at least I think that was his name – I admit I can’t remember!). Walt’s artwork in the show was really quite impressive. He and his collaborator found a way to create a mesh-like solid that would resemble the portrait of three different men when viewed from three different angles. The pictures in the online gallery really don’t do it justice (which is why I hadn’t really noticed it until discussing with with Walt). It was a good day.

At the risk of running this post too long, I’ll also say a bit about today. The morning was spent with Enrico, but then just before lunch I caught the last 45 minutes of talks. One was partially filled with beautiful music played by violinist Corey Cerovsek. He’s a bit of a prodigy, having completed doctoral work in both music and mathematics by age 18. He played a piece by Bach, and played it amazingly well. It was fascinating to hear him describe his conception of the relationship between mathematical and musical thinking. I was particularly fascinated by his description of where math and music seem to diverge in his mind – at the point of emotive and physical expression. I’d love to think more about how visual art could try to bridge this point of division.

The rest of the day was filled with “family friendly” workshops and displays. I attended a poetry reading session, and a bit later watched the reading of a play entitled Hypatia’s Circle. It was a dramatization of Hypatia’s “mathematical martyrdom” in 415 A.D. at the hands of a mob of parabalani (a particular sort of religious attendants to the Bishop of Alexandria in ). I found the play somewhat frustrating – a portrait of confusion. For the most part, it portrayed an ugly distortion of Christianity as a politically oppressive and individually stifling force, while at the same time portraying mathematics as its own religion demanding (or at least inviting) fanatical devotion. Now, I understand that both versions of Christianity and mathematics have unfortunately had their place in history, and (perhaps more unfortunately) still appear today. We can’t just turn a blind eye and pretend these distortions don’t exist. Yet, while this play did a decent job of depicting the violence that can occur from the clash of irreconcilable non-biblical worldviews, it did not do a good job of imparting any sense of hope for something better. However, I am thankful that it at least set the stage for a discussion about the wholesome nature of a biblically-based Christian worldview with a Finnish acquaintance I had recently made at the conference. In particular, we discussed the fact that a mathematically informed view of the world fits very well with a Christian understanding of God and absolute truth. In fact, I firmly believe the profound relevance of mathematics to the physical world is best explained by the existence of God (as pointed out by Vern Poythress in his essay, A Biblical View of Mathematics). Math and Christianity are not at odds, though this erroneous view was encouraged by the portrayal of events in Hypatia’s Circle. During our discussion, I also cited the statement that “Christianity is both intellectually credible and existentially satisfying.” I thought this was originally stated by Francis Schaeffer, but as I look around online, it seems that it may be due to Timothy Keller. Either way, I find it a resonant, helpful, and true statement.

Ok, so now the conference is over. I could say more, and perhaps I will in some future posts. For now, I’ll just say that I’m looking forward to some more work with Enrico tomorrow and some time to explore Jyväskylä a bit further. I’m also planning to attend a local Christian church on Sunday, and I’m praying that we’ll enjoy some good Christian fellowship.