“The Mathematics of Being Human” Reviewed in Siam News

Photo by Marlayna Demond.

Photo by Marlayna Demond.

Ahead of a scheduled performance of “The Mathematics of Being Human” on July 29 at the BRIDGES Conference in Baltimore, the play received a positive review in Siam News. It debuted at UMBC on November 4, 2014, and has since been performed across the country in San Antonio, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

Featuring Michele Osherow, associate professor of English, Manil Suri, mathematics professor, Savannah Jo Chamberlain ’16, theatre, Chaz Atkinson ’16, theatre, and directed by Alan Kreizenbeck, associate professor of theatre, the play chronicles the struggles of two professors trying to develop a joint seminar studying the intersection of math and literature.

“I was lucky enough to get a seat at a performance held at UMBC, along with apparently a dozen or more of the students who had taken the real-life freshman humanities seminar that inspired this play. Judging by their appreciative laughter at pivotal plot points, I think that much of the performance rang true to their experience as humanities students suckered into a mathematics class,” wrote Katherine Socha, who reviewed the play for Siam. 

“Wonderful selections of mathematics connections in literature and art highlight the rich opportunities for the cross-cultural battles led by these sharply defined faculty characters,” she added.

To read the complete review “Play Takes Aim at the ‘Two Cultures’ Divide,” click here. For more information on the July 29 performance in Baltimore, click here.

Manil Suri, Mathematics, Writes New York Times Op-Ed on Math’s Application to the Maryland Blue Crab Population

manil suriPublished in the Sunday edition of the New York Times on May 3, Mathematics Professor Manil Suri wrote his third column since being named contributing opinion writer on the application of math to predict Maryland’s blue crab population. He examined the complexities and various factors that can go into a mathematical formula to predict the population.

“Fecundity and survival rates — so innocuous as algebraic symbols — can be difficult to estimate. For instance, it was long believed that a blue crab’s maximum life expectancy was eight years. This estimate was used, indirectly, to calculate crab mortality from fishing. Derided by watermen, the life expectancy turned out to be much too high; this had resulted in too many crab deaths being attributed to harvesting, thereby supporting charges of overfishing,” Suri wrote.

In his column, Suri further discusses the difficulty in finding an accurate quantitative formula to calculate the blue crab population, which depends on a number of factors that are not easy to predict.

“In some sense, that might be the wrong goal anyway. Randomness is built into biological processes, so predicting a population is never going to be like calculating the interest on a bank account. The best we can do is use available science to make educated guesses about various outcomes,” he wrote.

To read the full column titled “Mathematicians and Blue Crabs,” click here.

Manil Suri, Mathematics, Writes New York Times Op-Ed on Recent Beef Ban in Parts of India

manil suriIn his second published column since being named a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, mathematics professor Manil Suri wrote about the recent ban of beef in some parts of India. Suri’s column, titled “A Ban on Beef in India is Not the Answer,” examines the political and historical motivations for the ban and its implications on personal freedoms and the economy.

“The laws have affected more than just restaurants. Thousands of butchers and vendors, their livelihood abruptly suspended, have protested in Mumbai. The leather industry is in turmoil. Beef is consumed not only by Indian Muslims and Christians, but also by many low-caste Hindus, for whom it is an essential source of affordable protein,” Suri wrote.

Suri also analyzed the recent beef ban in the context of the larger debate on equality in India: “Indian civilization has evolved over the centuries to include multiple diverse communities with competing interests. Despite its secular Constitution, India remains strikingly unequal. The government must make every effort to balance majority sentiments with minority needs. This is what the previous rules that restricted cow, but not bull, slaughter did,” Suri wrote, adding, “Imposing ideals from a mythic past is not the answer. The true lesson to take away from history is how utilitarian goals can shape religious custom. Hinduism has always been a pragmatic religion; what today’s India needs is accommodation.”

To read the full New York Times column, click here.

Manil Suri, Mathematics, Named Contributing Opinion Writer for the New York Times

Mathematics professor Manil Suri has been named a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. In this role, Suri will publish columns around once a month. To read an announcement published in Capital New York, click here.

Manil Suri 2In light of Pi Day celebrated on March 14 and this year celebrated as a once-in-a-century event with the full date in line with the first five digits of pi’s decimal expansion, Suri published his first column about understanding what pi truly is, the history behind it, and why it remains so significant.

At the beginning of his column, Suri explained how pi’s importance can be found in many places: “And yet pi, being the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, is manifested all around us. For instance, the meandering length of a gently sloping river between source and mouth approaches, on average, pi times its straight-line distance. Pi reminds us that the universe is what it is, that it doesn’t subscribe to our ideas of mathematical convenience.”

Suri also discussed what pi can tell us about computers as they’ve developed over the last several decades: “With the advent of computers, pi offered a proving ground for successively faster models. But eventually, breathless headlines about newly cracked digits became less compelling, and the big players moved on. Recent records (currently in the trillions of digits) have mostly been set on custom-built personal computers. The history of pi illustrates how far computing has progressed, and how much we now take it for granted.”

To read the full column published in the New York Times, click here.

Manil Suri, Mathematics, and Michele Osherow, English, Reflect on Experience Performing “The Mathematics of Being Human”

ManilSuriHeadShotIn an article in the March 6 edition of India Abroad magazine, Mathematics professor Manil Suri discussed the play he performed and co-wrote with English associate professor Michele Osherow, “The Mathematics of Being Human.” The play is an outgrowth of a seminar that the two professors jointly taught that bridged their areas of expertise. In the article, Suri participated in a Q&A about the play and his experience teaching with Osherow. To read the full article, click here.

Michele OsherowSuri and Osherow, both alumni of Carnegie Mellon University, were also interviewed for a recent news article on the university’s website about the play. In the story, they discussed the value of teaching a course that combined study of math and literature. “We’re trying to suggest that interdisciplinary teaching is extremely hard — there’s something to pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone,” Osherow said.

On March 8, the “Mathematics of Being Human” will make its New York City premiere at the National Museum of Mathematics. For more information, click here. In addition, Suri and Osherow will be performing an excerpt of the play on math and King Lear at the National Academy of Science’s DC Art Science Evening Rendezvous (DASER) on March 19 in Washington, D.C. The performance will be held to celebrate the Man Ray exhibit “A Journey from Mathematics to Shakespeare” at the Phillips. For more information, click here

March 19 update: to read a Washington Post article about “The Mathematics of Being Human, click here.    

Manil Suri, Mathematics, Writes New York Times Op-Ed

On Tuesday, November 4, The New York Times published an op-ed written by Mathematics Professor Manil Suri that urges India’s government to see discrimination as both an economic and moral problem.

ManilSuriHeadShot

In the column, Suri writes about Apple CEO Tim Cook’s coming-out essay in Bloomberg Businessweek and an unidentified 32-year-old engineer for the Indian software company Infosys, who as Suri writes, “faces a much bleaker future,” than Cook. Cook’s essay established him as the first openly gay C.E.O. of a Fortune 500 company. “The announcement generated considerable optimism that with his influence and visibility he would be a force for far-reaching advocacy in years to come,” Suri wrote. The 32-year-old Indian man was arrested under Section 377 of India’s penal code, which makes homosexual conduct punishable by prison.

“If India wants to become a true global powerhouse, its government should begin to see discrimination as an economic problem, as well as a moral one,” Suri writes. “Mr. Cook has characterized writing his essay as laying a brick for justice. Now we need political leaders bold enough to lay the rest of the path, so that millions of others like him can normalize their lives and explore their full potential.”

To read the full column titled “Exposing the ‘Bagalore Techie,'” click here.

Manil Suri, Mathematics, To Present at Kriti Festival as Author Guest of Honor

ManilSuriHeadShotThe Kriti Festival is one of the largest South Asian literature festivals in North America and will be held from September 25-28 at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Mathematics Professor Manil Suri has been named the festival’s author guest of honor and will be addressing the gathering on Saturday, September 27 in Chicago.

The following is an excerpt from the festival’s website outlining Suri’s accomplishments: “[Suri’s] first novel, The Death of Vishnu (2001), won the Barnes and Noble Discover Prize, was a finalist for the Pen-Faulkner, Kiriyama and Pen-Hemingway awards, and on the long list for the Booker Prize. His second novel, The Age of Shiva (2008), was listed as one of the best 25 books of the decade by the website Contemporary Literature on About.com. His third novel, The City of Devi (2013) was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards and won a Bisexual Book Award. The three novels form a trilogy based on the trinity of Hindu gods Vishnu, Shiva, Devi, and correspond to the present, past and imagined future of India.”

For more information on the event, click here.

While Suri was in Chicago, he was also interviewed by WBEZ Radio about mathematics, stereotypes and homosexuality on the popular program, “Afternoon Shift.” To listen to the full segment, click here.