Woods Lecture Series: Jordan Ellenburg
December 5, 2017
Woods Lecture Series: Jordan Ellenburg

"How Not To Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking"

The math we learn in school can seem like a dull set of rules, laid down by the ancients and not to be questioned. In this talk, Jordan Ellenberg shows us how wrong this view is: Math touches everything we do, allowing us to see the hidden structures beneath the messy and chaotic surface of our daily lives. It’s a science of not being wrong, worked out through centuries of hard work and argument. Drawing from history as well as the latest theoretical developments, Ellenberg demonstrates that profound mathematical ideas are present whenever we reason, from the commonplace to the cosmic. And, he shows how to use this kno... READ MORE


Math, as Jordan Ellenberg says, is “an atomic-powered prosthesis that you attach to your common sense, vastly multiplying its reach and strength.” Math helps every kind of thinker think better—it hones our intuition, sharpens our judgment, tames uncertainty, and lets us see the deeper structure and logic of our world. The Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Ellenberg is the author of two books: How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, and The Grasshopper King, which was a finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. Recently, he served as a consultant (and actor, briefly!) for the film Gifted, directed by Marc Webb, who cast Ellenberg for the role because, in his words: “he’s just a really charismatic teacher.”


Ellenberg has held an NSF-CAREER grant and an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, and in 2013 he was named one of the inaugural class of Fellows of the American Mathematical Society. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Wired, The Believer, and the Boston Globe, and he is the author of the “Do the Math” column in Slate. His Wired feature story on compressed sensing appeared in the Best Writing on Mathematics 2011 anthology.