Tag Archives: lectures

Jonah Lehrer, Niall Ferguson, the lecture economy

They apparently had the same problem — their brand was “person who writes books” but their actual business model became “person who gives lectures for five-figure fees.”  The demands of the two roles are very different.

Ideally, a public lecture should be an advertisement inducing people to read your book and engage with your argument presented in full.  What a disaster if the book becomes an advertisement for the lecture instead.

Update:  Stuff on this theme is all over the place today:  here’s Daniel Drezner on “Intellectual Power and Responsibility in an Age of Superstars” and Justin Fox on “the rage against the thought-leader machine.”  Both pieces are great.

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Jay Michaelson on God vs. Gay, Dec 1

My friend Jay Michaelson, my go-to guy for all matters of Jewish learning, is speaking in Madison this Thursday evening about his new book God vs. Gay?:  The Religious Case for Equality. Recommended for all who care what feist left-wing observant Jews have to say about religion and sex.  Which is everyone, right?

Book trailer:

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Distinguished lectures this week: Gunnar Carlsson on persistent homology

Fun week coming up:  Gunnar Carlsson of Stanford will be giving this semester’s Distinguished Lecture Series at Wisconsin.  The talks:

Monday, March 8 and Tuesday, March 9, 4pm, Van Vleck B239:

“Topology and Data”

There is a growing need for mathematical methodologies which can provide understanding of high dimensional data sets. These methods also need certain kinds of robustness, so that they should not be too sensitive to changes of scale and to noise, and they should be applicable to various kinds of unstructured data. In these talks we will discuss methods for adapting idealized notions coming from algebraic topology and homotopy theory to the world of point clouds, and show numerous examples of applications of these methods.

Wednesday, March 10, 1:30pm, 1209 Engineering Hall:

“Functoriality, Generalized Persistence, And Structural Signatures”

See the computational topology at Stanford home page for a good overview of the topics of Gunnar’s lectures.  Nigel Boston, Rob Nowak, and I have been running a learning seminar on the topic:  I’ll try to post again this week about some data that Laura Balzano and I messed around with with persistent homology in mind, and what we learned thereby.

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Diaconis: From Magic to Mathematics and Back

Persi Diaconis of Stanford speaks tomorrow, 4pm, in Van Vleck room B102, on “From Magic to Mathematics and Back”:

“Sometimes the way that magic tricks work is even more amazing than the tricks themselves. Professor Diaconis will illustrate with tricks that fool magicians (demonstrations provided). The tricks depend on hidden mathematics: combinatorics and group theory (the talk is aimed at a general audience). The math behind the tricks has applications to secret codes, decoding DNA, robot vision and much else. Changing the tricks leads to math problems beyond our current understanding.”

He’ll also be giving colloquium on Friday.  For people outside math:  you might have heard of Diaconis as the guy who proved that it takes seven shuffles to randomize a deck of cards. And that coincidences aren’t surprising.

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Math And: Arielle Saiber on Italian poetry and Italian algebra, Friday, Oct 23 at 4pm

Something to do tomorrow (besides eating the Beef n Brew slice): the Math And… seminar is very pleased to welcome Arielle Saiber from Bowdoin for our Fall 2009 lecture.  Arielle is an Italianist of very broad interests, with academic papers on Italian literature, the early history of algebra and geometry, Dali’s illustrations for Dante, and the polyvalent discourse of electronic music.  Tomorrow there will only be time to unite the first two.

23 Oct 2009, 4pm, Van Vleck B239: Arielle Saiber (Bowdoin, Italian)

Title “Nicollo Tartaglia’s Poetic Solution to the Cubic Equation.”

Niccolo Tartaglia’s (1449-1557) solution to solving cubic equations, which renowned mathematician and physician Girolamo Cardano wanted but Tartaglia resisted, led to one of the first intellectual property cases in Western history. Eventually, Tartaglia agreed to give Cardano what he so desired, but only if the latter promised he would not publish it. Cardano promised, and Tartaglia sent him the solution. Wasting little time, however, Cardano published the solution (along with a ‘general’ solution that he himself developed). Tartaglia was, not surprisingly, furious and began a vicious battle with Cardano’s assistant, Ludovico Ferrari (Cardano refused to engage Tartaglia directly). But vitriolic polemics aside, there is something else rather curious about this ordeal: the solution Tartaglia gave Cardano was encrypted in a poem. This talk looks at the motives behind his “poetic solution” and what it says about the close relationship between ‘poeisis’ and ‘mathesis’ in this period of mathematics’ history.

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In which I attend a conference on fundamental groups in arithmetic geometry from the comfort of my own home

I don’t watch videotaped lectures — in general I’ve found the difficulty of seeing the board and hearing the lecturer makes it impossible for me to maintain enough focus to engage with the mathematics and take good notes.  In fact, I think the only online video lecture I’ve ever viewed all the way through was one of my own, because I somehow lost the notes I’d used and needed to generate a new set so I could give the talk again.

But I was really sorry not to be able to make last week’s introductory workshop for the Newton Institute’s special semester on non-abelian fundamental groups in arithmetic geometry — so sorry that I decided to try watching the recorded lectures on my laptop.  And they’re great!  Crisp sound and visuals, appropriately timed close-ups on the board, and even a camera pointed at the audience so you can see the people asking questions.  And you can download the talks to your iPod!   Three cheers for the A/V team at the Newton Institute.

As of tonight just the Monday and Tuesday talks are up, which is already plenty to keep me busy.  I just watched Deligne talk about counting l-adic local systems on curves over finite fields; highly recommended.

When I was first giving public lectures, someone gave me the hoary advice that I should quell nervousness by imagining the members of the audience in their underwear.  Strange to think that, in this new broadband world, most of them actually are.

One-second precis of Deligne’s talk:  starting with Drinfel’d in the early 80s, you can count the number of l-adic local systems on a curve over F_q by applying whatever version of the Langlands correspondence you have available and then using an appropriate trace formula to count automorphic forms.  It turns out that the number of rank-d l-adic local systems “defined over F_{q^n}” seems to behave as if it were governed by a Lefschetz fixed point formula, i.e. as if it were the number of F_{q^n}-rational points on some variety.  But what variety?  Not the moduli space of rank-d vector bundles with connection on the curve; that has dimension twice as large as the dimension of the purported variety suggested by the result of the counting problem.  But one still may hope — bolstered to some extent by recent work of Arinkin and Flicker — that the point count is reasonably legible and has something to do with the hyperkahler geometry of that moduli space.  I don’t think that summary made tons of sense — so watch the video!

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MALBEC seminar: David Balduzzi, “Measuring consciousness as integrated information”

The new MALBEC seminar starts tomorrow!  Announcement below.

The Department of Mathematics is pleased to announce a special lecture series for Spring 2009.  The MALBEC lectures (“Mathematics, Algorithms, Learning, Brains, Engineering, Computers”) aims to encourage closer ties between mathematicians and scientists around UW doing mathematical work on the foundations of learning, perception, and behavior of people and machines. Please come, participate, and hang around afterwards with the speakers!

Up-to-date information about the series can always be found at the MALBEC home page.

Our first lecture, “Measuring consciousness as integrated information,” by David Balduzzi, will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, March 4, at 4pm, in Van Vleck B102. David holds a 2006 Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Chicago and is now a postdoc at the UW Center for Sleep and Consciousness.  The lecture will be followed by a reception in the Van Vleck 9th floor lounge.  Upcoming speakers include Partha Niyogi (U Chicago, CS) on April 17; Michael Coen (UW, biostat and CS) on April 21; and Jerry Zhu (UW, CS) on May 6.

We are very grateful to the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery and the Morgridge Institute for Research for their support of the MALBEC seminar.

Abstract: The integrated information theory (Tononi 2004) starts from phenomenology and makes use of thought experiments to claim that consciousness is integrated information. First: the quantity of consciousness corresponds to the amount of integrated information generated by a system of elements. Information is quantified by taking the current state as a measurement the system performs on itself, which specifies a repertoire of prior states that cause (lead to) the current state. Integrated information (phi) is quantified by computing the repertoire specified by the system as a whole relative to the repertoires specified independently by its parts. Second: the quality of an experience is completely specified by the set of informational relationships generated within that system. The set of all repertoires generated by subsystems of a system is represented in a geometric object, the quale. Informational relationships between points in the quale characterize how the measurements resulting from interactions in the system give structure to a particular experience.

After describing the theory in some detail, I will discuss how several neurobiological observations fall naturally into place in the framework: the association of consciousness with certain neural systems rather than with others; the fact that neural processes underlying consciousness can influence or be influenced by neural processes that remain unconscious; and the reduction of consciousness during dreamless sleep and generalized seizures. Furthermore, features of the quale can be related to features of conscious experience, such as modalities and submodalities, and can explain the distinct roles of different cortical subsystems in affecting the quality of experience.

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Do you have a photographic memory for math talks?

I had a rather startling conversation with a colleague of mine today. We were discussing a conference we’d both attended in 2006, and my colleague’s account revealed — as if it were nothing out of the ordinary — that he could provide a complete catalogue of all the lectures delivered there. (With rather pungent evaluative commentary, too, but that sort of thing isn’t for blogging.) This colleague went on to tell me that he more or less remembers every serious math conversation he’s ever had.

I’m completely different; I often can’t remember the contents of a talk I saw the previous day. Or, more precisely, I can’t recall the contents — the material is familiar to me if I hear it again.

Anyway, readers, who’s normal, me or my colleague? Can you reel off the list of speakers from conferences of yesteryear?

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Get Bayesian with Josh Tenenbaum, May 8

Our friend Josh Tenenbaum, a psychologist at M.I.T., is in town to plenarize this Thursday at 3pm at the First Annual UW Cognitive Science Conference. He hasn’t posted a title, but he’ll be talking about his research on Bayesian models of cognition. What makes a model “Bayesian” is a close attention to a priori probabilities, usually called priors.

For instance: suppose you’re an infant, trying to figure out how language works. You notice that when you wake up, your father points out the window and says “Hello, sun!” Pretty soon you figure out that the bright light he’s pointing at is called “sun.” But the evidence presented to you is just as consistent with the theory that, when you’ve just woken up, the word “sun” refers to the bright light out the window — but before bedtime it means “the stuffed monkey on the dresser.” How, infant, do you pick the former theory over the latter? Because you have some set of priors which tells you that words are very unlikely to refer to different things at different times of day. You don’t learn this principle from experience — you start with it, which is what makes it a “prior.” According to Chomsky-style linguistics, you are born with lots of priors about language — you know, for instance, that there’s a fixed order in which the subject, object, and verb of a sentence are supposed to come. If you didn’t have all these priors, you wouldn’t have a chance of learning to talk; there’s an infinitude of theories of language, all consistent with the evidence you encounter. Your priors are what allows you to narrow that down to the one that’s vastly more likely than the sometimes-it’s-a-monkey alternatives.

I don’t think Josh is going to talk about language acquisition, but he is going to talk about the ways that lots of interesting cognitive processes can be described in Bayesian terms, and how to check empirically that these Bayesian descriptions are accurate. Recommended to anyone who likes mathy thinking about thinking.

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How to disagree about how to disagree

A few people read this blog to hear about my thoughts on the Orioles or various rock shows, but let’s face it, most of you are just here because you want to know: what is the right philosophy lecture with which to kick off my weekend? Well, you’re in luck! This semester’s Math And… lecture will be delivered by philosopher Adam Elga, this Friday at 4pm. Elga is a fascinating guy who thinks a lot about quantitative problems arising from the careful study of decisions, knowledge, and belief. His papers include “I Can’t Believe I’m Stupid,” Defeating Dr. Evil with Self-Locating Belief, and “Bayesianism, Infinite Decisions, and Binding.” This last paper features a puzzle I like a lot: A dead man is in hell. On his first day, God comes to him and says, “There’s been a mistake, you actually belong in Purgatory. To make it up to you, after today, you can go to Heaven for two days and then spend the rest of eternity in Purgatory — or if you like, you can go straight to Purgatory now.” The dead man figures two days in Heaven is worth one more day in Hell, so he takes the deal. Next day, God comes back: “I’ve got another deal for you. If you spend one more day in Hell, you can have two extra days in Heaven afterwards, so you get four days in all.” Well, two days in Heaven is worth one day in Hell, so the man accepts again. You see where this is going: every day the dead man gets the offer, every day he does the rational thing and accepts, and as a consequence he spends all eternity in Hell. What went wrong?

On a not completely unrelated note, Elga was a participant in the Big Number Duel, in which he went head-to-head with a colleague from MIT to see who could write the biggest number on the board. (He lost.)

Anyway, here’s the information for the talk:

LOCATION: Helen C. White Hall, room 4281

TIME: 4pm, Friday, Oct 26

TITLE: How to disagree about how to disagree

ABSTRACT: When one encounters disagreement about the truth of a
factual claim from a trusted advisor who has access to all of one’s
evidence, should that move one in the direction of the advisor’s view?
Conciliatory views on disagreement say “yes, at least a little”.
Such views are extremely natural, but they give bad advice when the
issue under dispute is disagreement itself. So conciliatory views
stand refuted. But despite first appearances, this makes no trouble
for partly conciliatory views: views that recommend giving
ground in the face of disagreement about many matters, but not about
disagreement itself.

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