The Poetry of Math

August 2019 Issue

Numbers are a peculiar human invention, a highly abstract concept that nonetheless map our physical existence in a very direct and comprehensive way. As those mappings become more complicated, so does the mathematics involved, but the tight relationship remains. Concepts initially discovered through complex mathematical transformations entirely divorced from any specific referent have proven, time and again, to be applicable to real phenomena in the world around us. Numbers, then, seem to be simultaneously completely made up and an inherent part of the fabric of reality. But if numbers are a product of our minds, they equally shape how we think. Seeing the world in base ten is very different from taking a binary viewpoint. And the highly mathematical mind, attuned to numerical nuances that may escape the rest of us, may be a thing of beauty and wonder. These films dance along the blurry boundary of the abstract and applied mathematical worlds, in and out of the perspectives those who work with them -- physicists, mathematicians, educators, artists -- to discover delicate, and yes, poetic, interrelations of the world and its systems of representation.