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Mathematics in Arcadia

Tom Stoppard in conversation with Robert Osserman

MSRI released a videotape of the MSRI public event held at Hertz Hall on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley in 1999. 

The video is 90 minutes long, of which a total of 15 to 20 minutes consists of four separate sets of excerpts from Stoppard's play Arcadia, performed by students at the Center for Theater Arts at the University of California, Berkeley. The remainder is devoted to a conversation between Tom Stoppard and Robert Osserman, Special Projects Director at MSRI. The play Arcadia has been one of Stoppard's greatest successes, both critical and popular, and the remarkable fact is that it includes long discussions on a variety of mathematical and scientific questions, ranging from Fermat's Last Theorem and Newtonian determinism to iterated algorithms, the second law of thermodynamics, Fourier's heat equation, and chaos theory. The excerpts from Arcadia are scenes in which matters of mathematical or scientific interest are introduced, and the intervening conversation focuses on related questions, as well as using them as a springboard to a wide-ranging discussion of Stoppard's own background, his thoughts and sources for some of the characters and ideas in the play, and broader issues concerning the nature of science and the humanities.

For more on the play and the Stoppard/Osserman event see this article in SIAM News from April 1999 (PDF).