English R1B

Reading and Composition: Poetic Proofs

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
11 Fall 2021 Forbes-Macphail, Imogen
MWF 2-3 41 Evans

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“The mathematician’s patterns, like the painter’s or the poet’s, must be beautiful; the ideas, like the colours or the words, must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics.” — G. H. Hardy, A Mathematician's Apology

Is there anything poetic about a mathematical proof? Can the beauty of an artwork be distilled into a mathematical formula? In this course, we will investigate both how mathematicians think about the beauty of their subject, and how mathematical principles might help us to understand the aesthetic qualities of literature and the arts. We will read beautiful mathematical equations and proofs with the same degree of attention that we ordinarily devote to poetry, and analyze written texts with the kind of rigor and logic often associated with mathematics. We will also cultivate our own writing abilities, thinking about how to structure our ideas in ways that are both logical and aesthetically compelling. There is no expectation that you will come to this class with specialized mathematical knowledge, but you should expect to attempt some mathematical exercises throughout the course. You are also encouraged to bring your own disciplinary knowledge to the classroom, as you think about what constitutes beauty in your field. While the readings will concentrate principally on literature and mathematics, there will also be opportunities to consider aesthetics in music, the visual arts, textiles, and the sciences, amongst other topics.

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