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'Beyond Infinity': Exploring the Wonder and Beauty of Mathematics

Dr. Eugenia Cheng

How many of you feel math passed you by once you got beyond arithmetic? It's a feeling many of us have. Dr. Eugenia Cheng says too many of us.

Cheng, whose done a TED Talk, been on The Late Night With Stephen Colbert and is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, says one of the reasons we feel the way we do about mathematics is we were never taught it as a creative and passionate pursuit.

Cheng is herself a polymath - in addition to having a number of advanced degrees in pure mathematics, she is also an accomplished pianist and chef. Her first book for the lay audience, How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics, uses lessons from the kitchen to create accessible (and hunger inducing) introduction to the logic and beauty of mathematics.

Part of that logic and beauty is that mathematics is boundless.

"We will never be able to understand all of it," Cheng says, "simply because every single thing we understand creates a new thing we haven't understood. When we understand it, we will always create a new thing."

Beyond Infinity book cover

Beyond Infinity: An Expedition to the Outer Limits of Mathematics is Cheng's second book offering for the general audience. And while it's a lot of fun, it can also make your brain swim

And, Cheng says that's just fine. "I think that's good and something to embrace. It's like if you're on a boat at sea and it's rocking up and down. If you try to resist it you'll get sea sick. But if you can go with it you can start to enjoy the rocking motion and you can see all the wonderful creatures that are out there and admire the landscape."

She pauses for a moment. "For me, math is often about admiring the landscape and appreciating how powerful human minds actually are."

Dr. Cheng will speak about her work at Boswell Book Company on Sunday afternoon.

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.