April 22, 2009
On Oct. 25, 2008, at Williams College, mathematicians Colin Adams and Tom Garrity vigorously debated which mathematical concept is entitled to be the next president of the "United States of Mathematics." A new, 45-minute video from the MAA documents this historic event.
Adams represents the Topology Party's "Figure-Eight Knot"—the candidate of the new mathematics. Garrity stands in for the Algebra Party's "Euclidean Algorithm," a symbol of stability and the traditional roots of mathematics. Each spends a quarter of an hour making a pitch, and then takes another 300 seconds for rebuttal. Edward Burger serves as moderator.
The Figure-Eight Knot has links with the mathematics of the ordinary: Morty the Möbius band, Doris the dihedral group, and Joe the Jacobian. He supports "no function left behind" and rejects accusations of ties to Alexander's nefarious horned sphere. Figure-Eight Knot's running mate is "Sinx."
The Euclidean Algorithm makes his case by positing that algebra and arithmetic are true joys of childhood—central, in fact, to everything we do. Topology, he insinuates, is full of the notorious "don't cut but bend" crowd. Because topologists can't tell the difference between 6 and 9, the result would be chaos.
In rebuttal, the Figure-Eight Knot rejects pointed attacks by his opponent: ads defaming topologists because they can't differentiate between a donut and a coffee cup. His opponent's proposals, he claims, are akin to putting "mascara on a gradient."
The Euclidean Algorithm focuses on what we know to be true: Algebra is about following rules and working hard.
Moderator Burger then takes questions from the audience before the voting. To find out who wins, see the video.
Adams is the author of The Knot Book and co-author of How to Ace Calculus: The Streetwise Guide and How to Ace the Rest of Calculus: The Streetwise Guide. Adams is a recipient of the MAA's Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics. He writes "Mathematically Bent," a humor column in the Mathematical Intelligencer.
Garrity's research focuses on algebraic and differential geometry in number theory. His All the Mathematics You Missed (But Need to Know for Graduate School) is a bestseller. Garrity was the 2004 winner of the Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics.
The United States of Mathematics Presidential Debate
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