4th Annual Boole Lecture in Mathematics by John Wilson

Prof. John Wilson

On 2nd of November, George Boole’s 203rd birthday, Professor John Wilson (University of Oxford) delivered the 4th Annual Boole Lecture “Creativity in mathematics and the arts“. At the beginning Professor Andrei Zvelindovsky introduced the lecturer, who is a prominent  algebraist having well-established links with the Charlotte Scott Research Centre for Algebra in Lincoln. This lecture raised very interesting questions on connections and parallels between arts and mathematics. It was well attended by staff, students and members of the public and attracted numerous questions and comments.

The lecture examined the role played by rules or laws in mathematics and the arts, and whether they can foster creativity. Goethe expressed some views on the subject in his famous sonnet ‘Nature and art‘. Examples of such rules might appear to be the laws of logic and axioms of set theory in mathematics, the laws of counterpoint, Schoenberg’ rules of for 12-tone music, and the strict rules governing a Goethe sonnet or a Shakespearian sonnet. The extent to which such rules are understood by creator and listener/reader was examined.

However we saw that there are many more rules in mathematics, music and poetry than generally listed, and that real creativity often requires some rules, once established, to be broken. Even the Goethe sonnet mentioned above, while stressing the importance of the rules, deliberately deviates slightly from the rules at the end.

The lecture ended with the comparison of two tasks: the construction of a group with certain properties and the construction of a song with certain properties. After some technical requirements (for example, that the song should be very sad), the requirements listed in the tasks were very similar: requirements of economy of material and that the constructs be reminiscent of already familiar ones. The first task was carried out by Professor Wilson some years ago, and, since the `original’ setting of the song does not seem to be available, so was the second.

Musical examples played were part of a setting of ‘Haec Dies‘ for choir by Lincoln composer William Byrd, which illustrated economical use of patterns leading to a surprising breaking of the patterns, and the very sad song ‘O lieb Mädel‘ with text by Clemens Brentano described above.

After the lecture: Prof. Andrei Zvelindovsky, Head of School of Mathematics and Physics, Prof. Libby John, Head of College of Science, Prof John Wilson, Prof. Evgeny Khukhro

Questions, questions


Refreshments before the lecture

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© School of Mathematics and Physics, University of Lincoln, Brayford Pool, Lincoln, LN6 7TS, United Kingdom
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