Math News

Various mathematics-related news:

: This Friday and Saturday there will be a meeting in Cambridge on the topic of Ethics in Mathematics. Supposedly talks will be livestreamed on Youtube (perhaps here?).

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20 Responses to Math News

  1. LMR says:

    It’s interesting to see how Marcolli’s career has evolved over the years: I didn’t know that she’s taken an interest in computational linguistics since 2014. Her essay, “A drifter of Dadaist persuasion”, available from her Caltech website and to appear (as indicated there) in an AMS publication, is a fascinating read.

  2. Howe is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has more than 40 years of service in the fields of mathematics and mathematics education and has received numerous honors for spearheading national education initiatives and ultimately expanding the frontiers of mathematics…

    and he’s just gotten a tenure-track job? What hope do the rest of us have?? 🙂

  3. Thomas Larsson says:

    David, I got the impression that Peter was being ironic. I cannot think of a reason why somebody past 70 would want to get tenured, except perhaps ego. Surely universities can fire tenured professors once they reach mandatory retirement age (67?) if they want to.

  4. Peter Woit says:

    Thomas Larsson,

    I was being ironic, and I think David Roberts was too. Either the article was misusing terminology, or it might even have been technically correct (some institutions have a policy that even a senior hire doesn’t officially get tenure until after their first year, or something like that).

    In the US, there is no mandatory retirement age and tenured faculty can stay on as long as they want, which can sometimes create problems.

  5. Chris Oakley says:

    I feel the need to point out that, irrespective of any mathematical credentials, Tom Lehrer is, in my humble and miserable opinion, the author of the funniest songs ever written. His music does not seem to date, either. Anyone who has not yet discovered him has a treat in store.

  6. Peter, about Mathilde Marcolli, what is she talking about with respect to cruelty and exclusion in the mathematical community? Is she being a bit paranoid, or are people rejecting her work for bad reasons? It’s puzzling to me because from where I sit, as a non-scientist, she seems to have had a lot of success. I read her essay with great interest.

  7. Peter Woit says:

    The essay being referred to is here

    Michael Gogins,

    I’ve never met Marcolli, know only a little about her work, which is interesting, but highly idiosyncratic. You’d have to ask her for specifics, but you probably should take into account the context of what you quote (on page 4) which refers to the Surrealist critique of “the violence intrinsic in traditional family and bourgeois society.” I suspect her criticisms apply to a lot more than just the math research community.

    For some insight into one of her main reasons for going to Perimeter, note that she has a blog:

  8. Jim Given says:

    Peter, by coincide, I am only now reading the very excellent essay by Roger Howe, “On the Role of the Heisenberg Group in Harmonic Analysis,” which I’m sure you are familiar with.

  9. Thank you for the link to Marcolli’s blog. I read the two most recent posts. She is certainly alarmed, and alarming, and the blog does give insight into her paranoid-sounding remarks.

    There seems to be a common thread here with Grothendieck’s political attitudes…

    As for myself, I am certainly very alarmed, but I don’t think as much so as Marcolli.

  10. Jim Given says:

    Prof. Marcoli gave a lecture on creativity and mood disorder that may be valuable to many in the research math community:

  11. S says:

    I read Marcolli’s essay. I found it interesting, but also quite frustrating. There is a very great deal of talk about the violence and cruelty of the mathematical community and of (most, it seems) mathematicians, but a great lack of detail as to what form this cruelty might take; which certainly would be of enormous interest to those of us who might wish to try to do anything about it. It is quite upsetting that Marcolli has had such painful experiences; but as there is very little content about the form of any of those experiences, there is little I can say except that — it is quite upsetting that she has had such painful experiences.

    The exception would be where she discusses the putting away of books, which is quite a specific complaint, and one that I vigorously agree with.

  12. LMR says:

    Michael Gogins,

    Marcolli has something in common with Grothendieck’s parents, who surely had a profound influence on his worldview.


    For what it’s worth, the essay corroborates some of the rumblings of disaffection, which I’ve heard a while ago, that were coming from the field in which she was active.

  13. Jim Given says:

    Some people seem to be genuinely troubled (reasonably so) at Prof. Marcolli’s talk of “violence” within the mathematics community. For example her dismissal (from IHES?; from Connes’ research group?) is described as “violent” in her blog.

    It seems relevant here to note that, while Marcolli’s art provides a playing-with, and an ironic commentary upon Modernist art; her commentary is pure Postmodernism, with its recondite code of “marginalization”; “the Other”; “violence” and other standard terms of reference in the Postmodernist discourse. In brief, “violence” need not mean what it would mean in e.g. a police report. In context, one has per se no warrant for any assumption that it does.

  14. LMR says:

    Jim Given,

    IHES? Marcolli never had a position there. She was at the MPIM in Bonn. I think she made it very clear in the essay Peter linked to above that it had everything to do with her being ostracised by some in the noncommutative geometry community, about which I had heard of some internal troubles brewing during the time Marcolli made the move to Caltech.

  15. Jack Morava says:

    I only now became aware of this thread, sorry for not writing sooner. I don’t know MM well; we’ve met from time to time and we’ve corresponded occasionally. She is a major mathematician, a significant original voice, and I have the greatest respect for her and her work. [Cf eg for an example from some years ago.] She deserves to be taken very seriously.

  16. LMR says:


    I’m sure everyone here has the greatest respect for Marcolli and her work. I’m certainly in awe at the eclectic nature of the mathematics she’s done so far, not to mention her concurrent productivity in her artistic pursuits as well. On the other hand, it’s rather heartbreaking – though also insightful – to read in her essays (URLs supplied by Peter above) about the obstacles she’s had to overcome, in order to achieve the success she’s had.

  17. former mathematician says:

    Tom Lehrer is the source of the ironic phrase “in our copious free time.” It is from the patter introducing “It makes a fellow proud to be a soldier.”

  18. Jack Morava says:

    @ LMR: I agree completely, thanks.

  19. To provide justice or – in a less “Postmodernist” way for Jim Given 😉 – to pay a fair tribute to the mathematical- physics work of Mathilde Marcolli, it could be worth quoting explicitly her partnership with Connes in the exploration and distillation of space-time and the geometric setting of prime numbers, chasing in parallel nothing less than the Rieman hypothesis and quantum gravity. Following the tracks made by the falks who build the standard theory of Yang-Mills-Higgs interactions in the quantum world and walking in the steps of Grothendieck motives, they delivered in common an ambitious and dense book : “Noncommutative Geometry, Quantum Fields and Motives” that must not have been easy to write. This tremendous work should have heightened the unrest created by necessary compromises due to different points of view or conflicting agendas not to mention the meeting of two strong inspirational but not necessary complementary personnalities.

    For instance Connes has never hidden his skepticism about supersymmetry, string theories or loop quantum gravity and wants to keep forging ahead his spectral non-commutative geometry (NCG) project. On the opposite Marcolli has always been willing to build bridges between NCG and the other speculative ideas in theoretical physics. Her last book on “Noncommutative Geometry” is a very nice example of this inclination (the first chapter is free of charge at the Publisher website and is worth reading as a fresh review

    Mathilde Marcolli is definitely a ronin of noncommutative geometry ( Her math will not go away for sure and time will tell if her contributions to physics will find a path to the validation by experimental research. Working in a closer relationship with the Perimeter Institute may definitely help her to convince more physicists – thanks to her past (or future?) work – that the Higgs boson from attospace (and possibly dark matter at cosmological scale!) is (are) spectral noncommutative geometry staring us in the face…

  20. My apology for misquoting the title of Marcolli’s last book which is “Noncommutative Cosmology”.

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