Last night was the first lecture of Dr. Miller’s Gems And Astonishments of Mathematics: Past and Present class at UCLA Extension. There are a good 15 or so people in the class, so there’s still room (and time) to register if you’re interested. While Dr. Miller typically lectures on one broad topic for a quarter (or sometimes two) in which the treatment continually builds heavy complexity over time, this class will cover 1-2 much smaller particular mathematical problems each week. Thus week 11 won’t rely on knowing all the material from the prior weeks, which may make things easier for some who are overly busy. If you have the time on Tuesday nights and are interested in math or love solving problems, this is an excellent class to consider. If you’re unsure, stop by one of the first lectures on Tuesday nights from 7-10 to check them out before registering.
For those who may have missed last night’s first lecture, I’m linking to a Livescribe PDF document which includes the written notes as well as the accompanying audio from the lecture. If you view it in Acrobat Reader version X (or higher), you should be able to access the audio portion of the lecture and experience it in real time almost as if you had been present in person. (Instructions for using Livescribe PDF documents.)
We’ve covered the following topics:
Erdős Discrepancy Problem
Hilbert’s Cube Lemma (1892)
Van der Waerden (1927)
Sylvester’s Line Problem (partial coverage to be finished in the next lecture)
Over the coming days and months, I’ll likely bookmark some related papers and research on these and other topics in the class using the class identifier MATHX451.44 as a tag in addition to topic specific tags.
Mathematics has evolved over the centuries not only by building on the work of past generations, but also through unforeseen discoveries or conjectures that continue to tantalize, bewilder, and engage academics and the public alike. This course, the first in a two-quarter sequence, is a survey of about two dozen problems—some dating back 400 years, but all readily stated and understood—that either remain unsolved or have been settled in fairly recent times. Each of them, aside from presenting its own intrigue, has led to the development of novel mathematical approaches to problem solving. Topics to be discussed include (Google away!): Conway’s Look and Say Sequences, Kepler’s Conjecture, Szilassi’s Polyhedron, the ABC Conjecture, Benford’s Law, Hadamard’s Conjecture, Parrondo’s Paradox, and the Collatz Conjecture. The course should appeal to devotees of mathematical reasoning and those wishing to keep abreast of recent and continuing mathematical developments.
Some exposure to advanced mathematical methods, particularly those pertaining to number theory and matrix theory. Most in the class are taking the course for “fun” and the enjoyment of learning, so there is a huge breadth of mathematical abilities represented–don’t not take the course because you feel you’ll get lost.
I’d complained to the UCLA administration before about how dirty the windows were in the Math Sciences Building, but they went even further than I expected in fixing the problem. Not only did they clean the windows they put in new flooring, brand new modern chairs, wood paneling on the walls, new projection, and new white boards! I particularly love the new swivel chairs, and it’s nice to have such a lovely new environment in which to study math.
Category Theory for Winter 2019
As I mentioned the other day, Dr. Miller has also announced (and reiterated last night) that he’ll be teaching a course on the topic of Category Theory for the Winter quarter coming up. Thus if you’re interested in abstract mathematics or areas of computer programming that use it, start getting ready!
This short introduction to category theory is for readers with relatively little mathematical background. At its heart is the concept of a universal property, important throughout mathematics. After a chapter introducing the basic definitions, separate chapters present three ways of expressing universal properties: via adjoint functors, representable functors, and limits. A final chapter ties the three together.
For each new categorical concept, a generous supply of examples is provided, taken from different parts of mathematics. At points where the leap in abstraction is particularly great (such as the Yoneda lemma), the reader will find careful and extensive explanations.
It starts with the basics and it leads up to a trio of related concepts, which are all ways of talking about universal properties.
Huh? What’s a ‘universal property’?
In category theory, we try to describe things by saying what they do, not what they’re made of. The reason is that you can often make things out of different ingredients that still do the same thing! And then, even though they will not be strictly the same, they will be isomorphic: the same in what they do.
A universal property amounts to a precise description of what an object does.
Universal properties show up in three closely connected ways in category theory, and Tom’s book explains these in detail:
through representable functors (which are how you actually hand someone a universal property),
through limits (which are ways of building a new object out of a bunch of old ones),
through adjoint functors (which give ways to ‘freely’ build an object in one category starting from an object in another).
If you want to see this vague wordy mush here transformed into precise, crystalline beauty, read Tom’s book! It’s not easy to learn this stuff – but it’s good for your brain. It literally rewires your neurons.
Here’s what he wrote, over on the category theory mailing list:
My introductory textbook “Basic Category Theory” was published by Cambridge University Press in 2014. By arrangement with them, it’s now also free online:
It’s also freely editable, under a Creative Commons licence. For instance, if you want to teach a class from it but some of the examples aren’t suitable, you can delete them or add your own. Or if you don’t like the notation (and when have two category theorists ever agreed on that?), you can easily change the Latex macros. Just go the arXiv, download, and edit to your heart’s content.
There are lots of good introductions to category theory out there. The particular features of this one are:
• It’s short.
• It doesn’t assume much.
• It sticks to the basics.
T. Leinster, Basic Category Theory, 1st ed. Cambridge University Press, 2014.