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August 10, 2020
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Math + Questioning the Universe = Meaning

Like nearly everyone, the TTBOOK staff is staying close to home during this Covid time. But we’re finally getting the chance to broadcast a few interviews we recorded when travel was still possible. One of these recordings comes from the New York Academy of Sciences, where I’ve hosted an annual series of public conversations over the past decade. This particular event was called “The Mystery of Our Mathematical Universe,” and it was one of my favorites. The conversation was mind-bending but also filled with great stories and personal reflections on the beauty of mathematics, thanks to our two panelists, physicist James Gates and science writer Margaret Wertheim.

I’m not a mathematician or scientist, but I’m intensely curious about how the experts in these fields find meaning and wonder in their subjects. And I’m fascinated by the odd or surprising details they mention - for instance, why ancient Pythagoreans started a religion based on numbers; how a coral reef has a particular geometric structure (can corals actually “do” math?); why Einstein believed imagination was more important than knowledge. I love these wide-ranging conversations that touch on big, cosmic questions. We rarely come to any definitive conclusions, but that’s not really the point.

Our annual series at the New York Academy of Sciences has covered a number of big ideas, including the science of consciousness, awe and wonder, the boundaries between life and death, even the nature of reality. You’ll find videos of all these panel discussions on the Nour Foundation’s website.

—Steve

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We Call Them Fish. Evolution Says They're Something Else.

fish
Lulu Miller's book “Why Fish Don’t Exist” — which examines ichthyologist David Starr Jordan — is a meditation on the shadow side of scientific classification, and the dangers of trying too hard to impose order on chaos.
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The Weird World Of Eels

Eel
Eels are philosophically and scientifically slippery — they're still some of the most mysterious creatures on the planet. Journalist Patrik Svensson has been obsessed with them, and wound up writing a surprise bestseller — “The Book of Eels.”
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Waggle Dancing with Karl von Frisch

A bee's communication infrastructure
Tania Munz recently wrote a biography of Karl von Frisch — the German scientist who cracked the mystery of the honeybee’s waggle dance, which shows the rest of the hive precisely where to find a new food source miles away.
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