The Secret Mathematician

Episodes

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01Architecture20160201

Mathematician Marcus du Sautoy untangles the fascinating maths hidden beneath the surface of some of our great contemporary and historical works of art. His essays cover architecture, visual arts, music, literature and the artistry of maths itself.

Marcus du Sautoy's first secret mathematician is the architect Zaha Hadid. Although Hadid doesn't talk explicitly about maths as an inspiration behind her work, Marcus du Sautoy finds it hidden in the geometric forms that characterise her radically shaped buildings. Floating in the swimming pool at the Aquatics Centre that Hadid designed for the 2012 London Olympics, Marcus turns his mathematical perspective upon the wonderful wave-like roof. If you draw a triangle on the surface of this roof, he says, the angles will not add up to 180 degrees as they do when a triangle is drawn on a flat surface. Marcus explains the fascinating geometry underpinning Hadid's work.

Hadid is not the only architect to catch the eye of the mathematician: Le Corbusier in the twentieth century and Palladio in the sixteenth century were both architects who consciously based their designs on mathematical principles, such as the Golden ratio and the Fibonacci sequence. It's perhaps no surprise that architects depend on maths to make sure their buildings stand up, but Marcus will show that maths determines the aesthetic as well as structural qualities of many brilliant buildings from the Ronchamp Chapel to the new maths galleries at the Science Museum in London.

02Art20160202

Mathematician Marcus du Sautoy untangles the fascinating maths hidden beneath the surface of some of our great contemporary and historical works of art. In this edition, he starts with the work of artist Anish Kapoor.

Anish Kapoor actually started life with the intention of being an engineer but the difficulty of the maths put him off. Nonetheless, Kapoor's works of sculpture owe much to the mathematics of geometry and form. In this essay, Marcus du Sautoy will be exploring the presence of maths in the visual arts. Kapoor's work reveals a fascination with the biomorphic forms that are found in nature; and it is these same structures that fascinate the mind of the mathematician.

Marcus will explore the important relationship between mathematicians and artists during the Renaissance; and Salvador Dali's fascination with mathematics in the twentieth century. Dali is known to have developed friendships with scientists rather than artists because he believed 'artists should have scientific notions, so as to walk on different terrain.'

Finally Marcus credits Jackson Pollock with the accolade of an unconscious secret mathematician because he inadvertently produced paintings that have the same fractal quality that you find in nature, all because of the drunken way in which he sprays paint around his canvas.

03Music20160203

Mathematician Marcus du Sautoy untangles the fascinating maths hidden beneath the surface of some of our great contemporary and historical works of art. In this edition, he starts with composer Philip Glass.

Maths and music are often coupled together: rhythm, after all, is about counting and harmony is about the numerical relationships between notes. But the mathematical complexity of certain pieces of music, notably by the composer Philip Glass, goes far beyond these basic connections. Glass is the secret mathematician whom Marcus du Sautoy has chosen to focus on in his essay on music. From one of his earliest and simplest compositions 1+1 to his great opera Einstein on the Beach, Glass employs a mathematical method he calls the additive process to compose his work. But Marcus believes that this highly mathematical creative process doesn't produce cold, unemotional music. In fact it appeals to an innate tendency in our brains to seek out and spot patterns.

Glass is not the only secret musical mathematician to feature in Marcus's essay. He also talks about the work of Olivier Messiaen, Arnold Schoenberg and Indian tabla players of the eighth century. Maths pervades the world of music: As Stravinsky once said "the musician should find in mathematics a study as useful to him as the learning of another language is to a poet. Mathematics swims seductively just below the surface.".

04Literature20160204

04Literature20160204

Mathematician Marcus du Sautoy untangles the fascinating maths hidden beneath the surface of some of our great contemporary and historical works of art. In this edition, he explores literature.

Marcus du Sautoy reveals that writers, just like musicians and visual artists, have found ways to use maths to structure their writing. Not only can you find mathematical ideas discussed in books such as Ian McEwan's Solar or Bonnie Greer's Entropy; but you can also find maths in the structure of many famous literary works, notably the recent Booker winner The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, whose chapters are each half the length of the previous one, causing the pace of the novel to accelerate towards the end.

Marcus's desert island book is The Library of Babel by the secret mathematician Jorge Luis Borges. Marcus will explain why this story is a work of mathematical as well as literary genius.

Closing his essay on literature, Marcus will also give what, in all mathematical probability, is the first broadcast rendition of a Raymond Queneau sonnet - a sonnet constructed by randomly selecting each of the 14 lines from 10 available options. There are one hundred thousand billion different possible sonnets that can emerge from this surreal poetry-making process. This is one of them.

04Literature20160204

Mathematician Marcus du Sautoy untangles the fascinating maths hidden beneath the surface of some of our great contemporary and historical works of art. In this edition, he explores literature.

Marcus du Sautoy reveals that writers, just like musicians and visual artists, have found ways to use maths to structure their writing. Not only can you find mathematical ideas discussed in books such as Ian McEwan's Solar or Bonnie Greer's Entropy; but you can also find maths in the structure of many famous literary works, notably the recent Booker winner The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, whose chapters are each half the length of the previous one, causing the pace of the novel to accelerate towards the end.

Marcus's desert island book is The Library of Babel by the secret mathematician Jorge Luis Borges. Marcus will explain why this story is a work of mathematical as well as literary genius.

Closing his essay on literature, Marcus will also give what, in all mathematical probability, is the first broadcast rendition of a Raymond Queneau sonnet - a sonnet constructed by randomly selecting each of the 14 lines from 10 available options. There are one hundred thousand billion different possible sonnets that can emerge from this surreal poetry-making process. This is one of them.

05Secret Artist20160205

05Secret Artist20160205

Mathematician Marcus du Sautoy untangles the fascinating maths hidden beneath the surface of some of our great contemporary and historical works of art. In this edition, Marcus relates his own route into maths and his realisation that maths is really a form of art: the creativity of maths is more important than its usefulness.

One of the first maths books that Marcus remembers reading, aged 12, was A Mathematician's Apology by GH Hardy. In it, Hardy argues that "It is not possible to justify the life of any genuine professional mathematician on the ground of the utility of his work." On the contrary, "Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics."

Marcus will talk about his life as a mathematician and the parallels between his work and that of an artist, musician or writer. Just like a novelist, he wants to tell a good story when he's formulating a mathematical proof. He wants to entertain his audience with suspense, surprise and intrigue.

Maths is like art in trying to find explanations and representations for the world we live in; it provides a language for negotiating abstract ideas. Graham Greene described GH Hardy's book as the best description of what it means to be a creative artist after the diaries of Henry James; and it seems unquestionably true that the artist and mathematician are secretly, or not so secretly, linked.

05Secret Artist20160205

Mathematician Marcus du Sautoy untangles the fascinating maths hidden beneath the surface of some of our great contemporary and historical works of art. In this edition, Marcus relates his own route into maths and his realisation that maths is really a form of art: the creativity of maths is more important than its usefulness.

One of the first maths books that Marcus remembers reading, aged 12, was A Mathematician's Apology by GH Hardy. In it, Hardy argues that "It is not possible to justify the life of any genuine professional mathematician on the ground of the utility of his work." On the contrary, "Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics."

Marcus will talk about his life as a mathematician and the parallels between his work and that of an artist, musician or writer. Just like a novelist, he wants to tell a good story when he's formulating a mathematical proof. He wants to entertain his audience with suspense, surprise and intrigue.

Maths is like art in trying to find explanations and representations for the world we live in; it provides a language for negotiating abstract ideas. Graham Greene described GH Hardy's book as the best description of what it means to be a creative artist after the diaries of Henry James; and it seems unquestionably true that the artist and mathematician are secretly, or not so secretly, linked.