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January 26, 2023

Mathematics for Humanity

Posted by John Baez

I mentioned this earlier, but now it’s actually happening! I hope you can think of good workshops and apply to run them in Edinburgh.

The International Centre for Mathematical Sciences, or ICMS, in Edinburgh, will host a new project entitled Mathematics for Humanity. This will be devoted to education, research, and scholarly exchange having direct relevance to the ways in which mathematics can contribute to the betterment of humanity. Submitted proposals will be reviewed on April 15, 2023.

The activities of the program will revolve around three interrelated themes:

A. Integrating the global research community (GRC)

B. Mathematical challenges for humanity (MCH)

C. Global history of mathematics (GHM)

Development of the three themes will facilitate the engagement of the international mathematical community with the challenges of accessible education, knowledge-driven activism, and transformative scholarship.

For theme A, a coherent plan of activities for an extended period can be presented (at least 2 weeks, and up to to 3 months), comprising courses and seminars bringing together researchers from at least two different regions, which should be combined with networking activities and hybrid dissemination. Themes B and C would also comprise individual collaborative events.

Within each of the three themes, researchers can apply for one of the following activities:

  1. Research-in-groups. This is a proposal for a small group of 3 to 6 researchers to spend from 2 weeks to 3 months in Edinburgh on a reasonably well-defined research project. The researchers will be provided working space and funds for accommodation and subsistence.

  2. Research course or seminar. A group of researchers can propose a course or a seminar on topics relevant to one of the three themes. These should be planned as hybrid events with regular meetings in Edinburgh that can also be accessed online. Proposals should come with a detailed plan for attracting interest and for the dissemination of ideas.

  3. Research workshops. These are 5-day workshops in the standard ICMS format, of course with a focus on one of the three themes.

  4. Research school. These are hybrid schools of two-weeks length on one of the themes. These should come with substantial planning, a coherent structure, and be aimed towards post-graduate students and early career researchers.

The ICMS expects that up to 30 researchers will be in residence in Edinburgh at any given time over a 9-month period, which might be divided into three terms, mid-September to mid-December, mid-January to mid-April, and mid-April to mid-July. Every effort will be made to provide a unified facility for the activities of all groups working on all three themes, thereby encouraging a synergistic exchange of ideas and vision. The proposals will be reviewed twice a year soon after the spring deadline of 15 April and the autumn deadline of 15 November.

Project Summary

Submission Guidelines

Scientific Committee

Queries about the project should be sent to ICMS director Minhyong Kim or deputy director Beatrice Pelloni, who will be aided by the Scientific Committee in the selection of proposals:

John Baez (UC Riverside)                                        • Karine Chemla (Paris)

Sophie Dabo (Lille)                                                  • Reviel Netz (Stanford)

Bao Chau Ngo (Chicago and VIASM)                     • Raman Parimala (Emory)

Fernando Rodriguez Villegas (ICTP, Trieste)       • Terence Tao (UCLA)

Posted at January 26, 2023 9:42 PM UTC

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Re: Mathematics for Humanity

It seems to be worth mentioning that, unlike most UKRI and similar schemes, application is not limited to tenured academics at UK universities — at least as far as I can tell. Is that correct? If so, it’s a welcome change.

Posted by: James Sheppard on February 3, 2023 5:52 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Mathematics for Humanity

I don’t think there’s any such limitation, and that makes sense: for starters because this is an international program, and for seconders because people in industry, grad students, postdocs, etc. are all quite likely to be involved in math that really gets things done.

Posted by: John Baez on February 3, 2023 8:54 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Mozibur Rahman

There’s a few questions that I’m interested in the history of maths and physics. I don’t know whether they would be a good fit for this programme because of the emphasis on mathematics. But then again, mathematics and physics are closely entertwined. Or to use an old but woefully underused term, in a dialectic relationship with each other:

  1. How Newton’s laws of motion came about. Usually they’re just presented to us as a fait accompli. But there is a longer history. For example, I can trace a development from Aristotle notion of force, in the sense it causes change, to Philoponus notion of impetus and then Avicenna and then to Galileo and Newton. I think this is useful as a corrective, as Aristotle is a whipping boy for modern physicists for getting things wrong! Whereas, Aristotle was widely read for getting much right, and for asking thought provoking questions - and who doesn’t get things wrong? Penrose, also outlined in a celebration of Newton’s work, how he thought up the third law given some documents in his work. That just leaves the second - is that merely the simplest law possible given his other posits?

  2. A global history of atomism. Usually, it’s only ancient Greek atomism that is well known via Democritus and Lucretious. But Islamic, Jain & Buddhist civilisations also had something to say about atomism.

  3. Contrastingly, a global history of continua could well be interesting. Ie waves vs atoms. We all know who theorised atoms but the continua line of thought often gets lost. I think it was Rene Thom that said for a millennia, Aristotle was the only significant theorist of continua.

  4. A better history of calculus. I swallowed the line that Newton & Leibniz invented calculus. But I expect there is a prehistory that isn’t well known. For example, I learnt of Cavalieri’s principle recently which helped theorise integration.

Posted by: Mozibur Rahman Ullah on February 16, 2023 1:28 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Mozibur Rahman

All these are interesting topics for the project on Global History of Mathematics, one of the three parts of “Mathematics for Humanity” — check it out! The trick is getting a group of good researchers together to work on something.

By the way, there’s a lot of evidence in the Archimedes Palimpsest that Archimedes knew how to do integrals. Raviel Netz has a nice book on this, and he’s on the scientific committee of “Mathematics for Humanity”.

Posted by: John Baez on February 16, 2023 1:55 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Mozibur Rahman


Yes, I knew about that about Archimedes! I didn’t put that in as I didn’t want to make my post overlong. As he’s on your panel, I will sure to mention his name! There’s nothing quite like flattery.

Thanks for the encouragement. I’ll definitely check out the Global History of Mathematics and work up a proposal.

Posted by: Mozibur Rahman Ullah on February 16, 2023 4:33 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Mozibur Rahman

Ah, I see Archimedes is not on the panel. I misread what you wrote and thought that was a good joke which I wanted to run with ;-). I’ll check out Netz’s book. Thanks for the ref.

Posted by: Mozibur Rahman Ullah on February 16, 2023 4:37 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

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