Eugenia Cheng

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Eugenia Loh-Gene Cheng (born 1976 in Hampstead, UK) is a British mathematician, educator and concert pianist. As a mathematician, her speciality is category theory. She has written several books explaining mathematics to non-mathematicians and combatting math phobia.


  • Infinity is a Loch Ness monster, capturing the imagination with its awe-inspiring size but elusive nature. Infinity is a dream, a vast fantasy world of endless time and space. Infinity is a dark forest with unexpected creatures, tangled thickets and sudden rays of light breaking through. Infinity is a loop that springs open to reveal an endless spiral.
  • Abstraction is about digging deep into a situation to find out what is at its core making it tick. Another way to think of it is about stripping away irrelevant details, or rather, stripping away details that are irrelevant to what we're thinking about now. These details might well be relevant to something else, but we decide we don't need to think about them for the time being. Crucially, it's a careful and controlled forgetting of details, not a slapdash ignoring of details out of laziness or a desire to skew an argument in a certain direction.
  • ... I wish we could educate people not just to be able to do things and know things, but to be nicer humans — and to get their self-esteem not from being better at something than someone else — but from how much they are able to help someone else do something.

Quotes about Eugenia Cheng[edit]

  • The premise of “Is Math Real?” is that people have different emotions about math. Some love the math and have little difficulty determining the correct answer to a problem while others loathe and dislike the math and have a difficult time ascertaining the correct response. Many times, a student is humbled or chastised for asking ‘a stupid question’. Author Cheng states that there are no stupid questions. In fact, the most profound concepts in mathematics are learned from asking the simplest of questions. As teachers and professors of math, we should welcome all questions and understand that answering questions is what helps students learn. ...
    “Is Math Real?” treats mathematical topics in a unique and original way. Discussions on number patterns, Platonic solids, math history, ethnomathematics, and mathematical structures presents the reader with a plethora of ideas on how one can envision mathematics.
  • Tom French, Review of Is Math Real? by Eugenia Cheng. MAA Reviews, Mathematical Association of America (September 4, 2023).
  • As a category theorist, Cheng researches relationships. She uses this focus on relationships to address the problem of the divisiveness of arguments around gender equality. She abstracts the ideas and reframes the discussion based on relevant character traits that she demonstrates do not have to be linked to gender. She looks for assumptions that have been made, seeks to discard them, and discovers fundamental relationships. In order to better articulate these relationships, she invents new terminology as a way of preventing futile divisive arguments. These new terms are ingressive and congressive. She defines ingressive behavior as “going into things” where the focus is on the self and is more competitive, individualistic, and adversarial. She defines congressive behavior as “bringing things together” where the focus is on community and is more collaborative, interdependent, and cooperative. She gives many examples to illuminate her definitions. ...
    Cheng is deeply interested in making mathematics accessible to everyone.
  • … By relating personal stories, historical examples and mathematical analogies, Cheng explains how, when we rely on simplistic concepts like female and male, and the crusty logic that accompanies those concepts, we cannot have good conversations. As Cheng puts it: “If we object to the idea that ‘men are better,’ it’s not that helpful to declare instead that ‘women are better.’ It pits men and women against each other and sets up a prescriptive framework rather than a descriptive one.” She motivates us to strip away consistent triggers for dumb fights that lead nowhere.
    What would she have us strip away? This is where Cheng becomes a logician. She wants to carefully think through our associations with the word “success” as they relate to gender.

External links[edit]

Encyclopedic article on Eugenia Cheng on Wikipedia