M3 Math Majors Matter ----------------------------------

MATH IN THE ARTS

Cast Photo

Alex Kasman's Episode Guide to the Math for the first season episodes.

Ivars Pederson's MathTrek Column on the Show (with other links)

The CBS website for the show.

NUMB3RS

This TV crime drama (premiered January 2005) follows the adventures of a pair of brothers, one a mathematics professor and the other an FBI agent, as they combine forces to solve mysteries. Cool effects are used to "show" each brother's thought processes: horrific images of the crimes in the mind of the FBI agent, and funky floating formulas for the mathematician.

Although this is not my favorite TV show by any means (it is a bit too melodramatic for me -- I tire of Charlie's sorrowful looks) I am pleasantly surprised by the quality of the mathematics in the show. Clearly the writers know something about mathematics, and I understand that they also get advice from the math faculty at CalTech, the school on which the show's CalSci is based. Little details like the notation the mathematician uses when writing (e.g. the "backwards E" notation for "there exists" when his brother tells him that criminals keep a buffer zone between their homes and the scenes of their crimes) and name dropping (Witten, Feynman and Galois in the first episode) show an attention to details, but the whole idea of the role mathematics played in the resolution of the crime was also really reasonable. I had feared that the math would be used in either a trivial or fantastical way, but at least in the first episode, it seemed to be used sensibly. (See below for an episode by episode guide to the real math behind the stories.)

The mathematician is, like so many fictional mathematicians, somewhat quirky. (As one of my colleagues likes to point out, the freedom to be quirky is one of the perks of the job of a math professor!) He has stated, without explanation, that he does not drive. (Considering that he lives in Los Angeles, this might not merely be quirky but seriously crazy.) He also has a pretty, Hindi grad student who seems to worship him and his father suggests that he is quirky to not be romantically involved with her. In the second episode, the mathematician seems unable to control his brain, working on P vs. NP rather than a more important problem (that could save the life of his brother and other FBI agents) as if he was in a trance. (I guess it is true that sometimes we can get a bit obsessive when working on a problem, but I've got to point out that mathematician's don't really become "math zombies" like Charlie does here!)

The mathematician has an interesting relationship with a physicist working on quantum gravity who wants help with the equations, but who also seems to play a role in tying the mathematician to reality. In the first two shows, he makes remarks suggesting that the mathematician has to make his formulas a little less "pretty" to take into account the reality of human nature. Hey, is he a physicist or a psychologist? I'd hardly appreciate a lecture from someone working on string theory on the importance of being realistic over abstract beauty ; )!

(from Alex Kasman's MathFiction Page)

Do you have a review of your own? If so, send it to Bill Cherowitzo.



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