Is narrative important to both mathematics and literature
Is narrative important to both mathematics and literature

Collections École Polytechnique / Jérémy Barande

'Humanities and Science' series launched with discussion of the importance of narrative in scientific proofs

Matt Pickles

Leading figures from humanities and the sciences will discuss the importance of narrative in scientific proofs at Oxford University today.

The event marks the launch of the 'Humanities and Science' series organised by The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) and will take place at the Mathematical Institute at the University of Oxford.

Mathematician Marcus du Sautoy, Oxford’s Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, will give a presentation on role of narrative in mathematics. He will be joined on a panel by author Ben Okri, Oxford mathematician Roger Penrose and Oxford literary scholar Laura Marcus. The event will be streamed live online from 5pm.

Professor du Sautoy will argue: 'Mathematics is more than just true statements about numbers. Why does a proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem get celebrated as one of the great achievements of 20th century mathematics while an equally complicated calculation is regarded as mundane and uninteresting? Why is the proof more important than the result itself? It is not the QED but the pathway to that QED that mathematicians care about. Is the quality of the narrative journey of the proof actually what elevates a sequence of logically connected statements to be celebrated as mathematics? And what qualities does that narrative share with other narrative art forms?'

The discussion will be chaired by Elleke Boehmer, Professor of World Literature at Oxford. She said: 'Literary narrative and mathematical proof, far from being poles apart, in fact fall into intriguingly similar symbolic patterns: stage by stage sequences, tricky reversals, surprising denouements. Indeed, we might go so far as asking ourselves to what extent proofs are in fact narratives of a kind, and narratives a form of proof.'

TORCH's Humanities and Science series will focus on the relationship between the two disciplines, exploring how new answers can be found and new research questions can be set. It will showcase many of the existing research projects in Oxford that already cross the disciplines and provide an incubation space for new collaborative projects.

The dates for future public events as part of the series are on the TORCH website.