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Narrative & Proof

The Creation of Adam - Michelangelo
Tuesday, January 20, 2015 -
5:00pm to 6:30pm
Mathematical Institute, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Oxford

One of the UK's leading scientists, Marcus du Sautoy, will argue that mathematical proofs are not just number-based, but also a form of narrative. In response, author Ben Okri, mathematician Roger Penrose, and literary scholar Laura Marcus, will consider how narrative shapes the sciences as well as the arts.

The discussion will be chaired by Elleke Boehmer, Professor of World Literature in English, University of Oxford, and will be followed by audience discussion and a drinks reception.

This event will be webcast live at 5 pm GMT, please click here to live stream.

The event is free and open to all, but registration is recommended. Please click here to register at our Eventbrite page.

This event is organised in collaboration with the Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford. It is the opening event in TORCH's Humanities and Science series, which will explore how new answers can be found – and new research questions can be set – by bringing the disciplines together.

Abstract for Marcus du Sautoy's presentation

“Mathematics is more than just true statements about numbers. Why does a proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem get celebrated as one of the great achievements of 20th century mathematics while an equally complicated calculation is regarded as mundane and uninteresting? Why is the proof more important than the result itself? It is not the QED but the pathway to that QED that mathematicians care about. Is the quality of the narrative journey of the proof actually what elevates a sequence of logically connected statements to be celebrated as mathematics? And what qualities does that narrative share with other narrative art forms?”

The speakers

Marcus du Sautoy, Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, University of Oxford

Marcus du Sautoy is the Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of New College. He is author of three books: The Music of the Primes, Finding Moonshine and most recently The Number Mysteries. He has presented numerous radio and TV series including a four part landmark TV series for the BBC called The Story of Maths, a three part series called The Code and programmes with comedians Alan Davies and Dara O’Briain. He has written and performed a new play called X&Y which has been staged in London’s Science Museum and Glastonbury Festival. In 2009 he was awarded the Royal Society’s Faraday Prize, the UK’s premier award for excellence in communicating science. He received an OBE for services to science in 2010.

Ben Okri, Booker prize winning author

Image of Ben OkriBen Okri CBE has published 8 novels, including The Famished Road and Starbook, as well as collections of poetry, short stories and essays. His work has been translated into more than 20 languages. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and has been awarded the OBE as well as numerous international prizes, including the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa, the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction and the Chianti Rufino-Antico Fattore. He is a Vice-President of the English Centre of International PEN and was presented with a Crystal Award by the World Economic Forum. He was born in Nigeria and lives in London.


Roger Penrose, Mathematical Physicist

Sir Roger Penrose is an English mathematical physicist, mathematician and philosopher of science. He is known for his work in mathematical physics, in particular for his contributions to general relativity and cosmology. He has received a number of prizes and awards, including the 1988 Wolf Prize for physics, which he shared with Stephen Hawking for their contribution to our understanding of the universe.



Laura Marcus, Goldsmiths' Professor of English Literature, University of Oxford

Professor Laura Marcus's research and teaching interests are predominantly in nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature and culture, including life-writing, modernism, Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury culture, contemporary fiction, and litereature and film. Her book publications include Auto/biographical Discourses: Theory, Criticism, Practice (1994), Virginia Woolf: Writers and their Work (1997/2004), The Tenth Muse: Writing about Cinema in the Modernist Period (2007) and, as co-editor, The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century English Literature (2004).  Her current research projects include a book on British literature 1910-1920, and a study of the concept of 'rhythm' in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries, in a range of disciplinary contexts.

Elleke Boehmer, Professor of World Literature in English, University of Oxford

Elleke Boehmer is Professor of World Literature in English at the University of Oxford, and Professorial Governing Body Fellow at Wolfson College. She has published Colonial and Postcolonial Literature (1995, 2005), Empire, the National and the Postcolonial, 1890-1920 (2002), Stories of Women (2005), and Nelson Mandela (2008). She is the author of four acclaimed novels, including Screens again the Sky (short-listed David Hyam Prize, 1990), Bloodlines (shortlisted SANLAM prize), and Nile Baby (2008), and the short-story collection Sharmilla and Other Portraits (2010).  She edited Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys (2004), and the anthology Empire Writing (1998), and co-edited J.M. Coetzee in Writing and Theory (2009), Terror and the Postcolonial (2009), The Indian Postcolonial (2010), and The Postcolonial Low Countries (2012).  She is the General Editor of the Oxford Studies in Postcolonial Literatures Series, and deputy director of the Oxford Centre for Life Writing. A book on migration and identity, Indian Arrivals 1870-1915 and a fiction, The Shouting in the Dark, are forthcoming (both 2015).

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Hannah Penny
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