Berkeley Lecture 2014

The third Berkeley Lecture was given by Dr Simon Singh, a British author who has specialised in writing about mathematical and scientific topics in an accessible manner.

The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets

Thursday, 1 May, 2014 at 4pm.

Simon Singh, author of Fermat's Last Theorem and Big Bang, talks about his latest book, which explores mathematical themes hidden in The Simpsons. Everyone knows that The Simpsons is the most successful show in television history, but very few people realise that its team of mathematically gifted writers have used the show to explore everything from calculus to geometry, from pi to game theory, and from infinitesimals to infinity. Singh will also discuss how writers of Futurama have similarly made it their missions to smuggle deep mathematical ideas into the series.

The Berkeley Lecture is an annual event at NUI Maynooth in which a talk in the general area of mathematics and philosophy is given by a high-profile visiting speaker. It is sponsored by the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and the Department of Philosophy at NUI Maynooth.

This event is named after the famous Irish philosopher George Berkeley (1685-1753), who made major contributions to several areas of philosophy and had a keen interest in the philosophy of mathematics. Bishop Berkeley's 1734 treatise, The Analyst, made a detailed criticism of the Calculus of Newton and Leibnitz. This caused a major headache for mathematics and, over the next century, many great mathematicians tried and failed to overcome the problems highlighted by Berkeley. But, by highlighting problems that were eventually overcome, Berkeley's criticisms ultimately benefited mathematics by putting calculus on a firmer footing and making it safer for use by non-experts by eliminating the possibility of error through plausible but incorrect arguments. It also made the subject easier to teach, although it is still challenging material for students!