Sunday, May 3, 2009

UCLA Logic Symposium


On April 30, 2009 I attended the UCLA Logic Symposium sponsored by the UCLA Logic Center and the Department of Mathematics. The event was held in the stately Charles E. Young Grand Salon in one of the original buildings at UCLA, Kerckhoff Hall. Three speakers were featured, however the superstar that drew the largest crowd was Martin Davis, professor emeritus of mathematics and computer science at New York University and now a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley. Among the distinguished attendees were the UCLA Mathematics Department chair Christoph Thiele and the university's first Fields Medalist Terence Tao.

I love attending math events, I really do. I fee like I'm amongst people who are involved in pure thought. That impresses me. To me, intellectual purity is an evolutionary culmination of sorts, something like how the "Ancients" in the popular Stargate television series Ascend into pure energy after outliving their physical bodies. OK, well maybe I go to far with this analogy, but the people I met at the symposium were truly great thinkers. I had an illuminating conversation with Dr. Thiele about the strategies used by university mathematics departments to attract the best and brightest faculty members. It is easy now for UCLA because they have an automatic recruitment attraction in Terry Tao. Rumor has it, UCLA is in line to recruit a future Fields Medalist. Imagine that, two Fields Medalists at one school. I feel that my UCLA math degree suddenly rose in value.

Getting back to Professor Davis, he is renowned for his work on the unsolvability of Hilbert’s 10th Problem (Diophantine Equations). The unsolvability result is a consequence of the equivalence between two notions, one from logic/computability theory, the other, from number theory. Hilbert’s problems are a list of twenty three problems in mathematics put forth by German mathematician David Hilbert at the Paris conference of the International Congress of Mathematics in 1900. Most of the other problems have been resolved, but Problem 8, the Riemann hypothesis, remains the highest profile problem not yet resolved.

At the reception that followed the symposium, I was standing in the food line with Professor Davis and his very pleasant lady friend. I mentioned that I read his in depth interview in Notices of the American Mathematical Society. He humbly said that he was quite satisfied with it, and that he felt the interviewer came up with some rather insightful questions for him.

Later, still at the reception, I ran into a fellow math groupie that I see at science events around town. "Howard" is a nice enough chap. I'm grateful to him for turning me onto an excellent quantum mechanics book when I saw him lurking in the stacks of a local used book store last year.

I was happy to have attended the symposium. I make a point of attending these events when higher profile speakers are present, especially aging ones. I don't want to miss an opportunity to see famous scientists and mathematicians that may not be around much longer.

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