Writing seminar in mathematics

Tim Carmody, now a senior reporter at the Verge, taught a writing seminar at Penn called “Writing Seminar in Mathematics:  The Language of the Universe”:

For Galileo, the universe is written in the language of mathematics; for Descartes, the methods used in algebra and geometry teach us how to reason about anything, from philosophy to politics. Arguably, mathematics is fundamentally about writing–a set of rules that tell us what we are allowed to write and in what order. This seminar explores how mathematics’ emphasis on careful analysis, methodical argument, and logical proof can teach us to write in both scientific and nonscientific contexts. It will also examine the cultural and literary backgrounds of mathematical discoveries–the amazing, often funny stories behind the theorems scientists and engineers use every day. Our readings will come from philosophy and the history of science as well as Douglas Hofstadter’s wonderful book Gödel, Escher, Bach.

That sounds amazing!  I would love to teach a course like this, maybe someday as a FIG.  But probably not as a MOOC.  Perhaps an entirely new acronym is required.

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2 thoughts on “Writing seminar in mathematics

  1. Jason Starr says:

    Do you believe this goes both ways? Beyond the mechanics of grammar and usage, and the most basic elements of style, do you believe mathematicians have something to learn from those things that writers emphasize, and from the methodology followed by writers?

  2. Alexander Woo says:

    Just thinking of an example…

    I have learned one thing from writers. I think it was Vonnegut who wrote something like “The secret to artistic unity is an audience of one.” Something I have tried to do for most papers I have written is to pick some specific actual mathematician, usually someone close enough to what you are doing to be interested but far enough away to require you to explain some things in detail, and write with that person in mind.

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