Logic vs illogic: why mathematics is easy and life is hard

Eugenia Cheng

This is the title of a talk from 1st March 2004, for the Trinity Mathematical Society, Cambridge, and then on 14th February 2005 (in appropriately Americanised form) for the University of Chicago Math Club. A rough version of my text is available here in pdf. I've approximately integrated the slides into the text, but please note that this was a talk, and was not intended to be a written paper! I've basically just tried to make my notes look vaguely presentable...

Abstract:

Generations of even well-educated adults are under the delusion that mathematics is difficult, and that mathematicians must therefore be very clever. In this talk I will explode this myth and show that mathematics is in fact easy, and moreover that mathematics is precisely "that which is easy" for an appropriate sense of 'easy'. We will take 'easy' to mean 'attainable by logical thought processes'. As a corollary, or a converse, or a contrapositive or something, we will discuss the importance of illogical thought processes in non-mathematical life and the fact that life is thus difficult. Hence or otherwise we will deduce that mathematics is not life, nor can it nor should it be.

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