Margaret Wertheim

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Wertheim in 2009

Margaret Wertheim (born 20 August 1958) is an Australian-born science writer, curator, and artist based in the United States. She is the author of books on the cultural history of physics, and has written about science, including for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Guardian, Aeon and Cabinet. Wertheim and her twin sister, Christine Wertheim, are co-founders of the Institute For Figuring (IFF)], a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization though which they create projects at the intersection of art, science and mathematics.


  • The association between religion and mathematically based science has its origins in the mists of history. ...the very dawn of Western culture in sixth-century B.C. Greece. ...[W]hen the Greeks were turning away from the mythological picture immortalized by Homer and Hesiod, the Ionian philosopher Pythagoras of Samos pioneered a worldview in which mathematics was seen as the key to reality. In place of the mythological gods, Pythagoras painted a picture in which the universe was conceived as a great musical instrument resonating with divine mathematical harmonies. ...[inspiring] mystics, theologians, and physicists ever since. ...But to Pythagoras and his followers, mathematics was the key not simply to the physical world, but more importantly to the spiritual world—for they believed that numbers were literally gods. By contemplating numbers and their relationships, the Pythagoreans sought union with the "divine." For them, mathematics was first and foremost a religious activity.
    • Pythagoras' Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender Wars (1995) Introduction, pp. 9-10.
  • ... Faraday's momentous discoveries did not immediately launch an electric power industry. For one thing, nobody yet imagined it would be possible to transmit this power over long distances. That realization did not come until the end the century, when physicists had acquired a formal mathematical understanding of how magnetism and electricity work together.
  • Having been banished from his home and friends, Dante created in The Divine Comedy a new life for himself. Denied a voice in Florence, he recreated himself in fiction and gave this poetic "self" a voice that would ring through the ages. What we have in the poem is, in effect, a "virtual Dante." In fact we know far more about this virtual Dante (what literary critics call "Dante-pilgrim") than we know about the real historical person ("Dante-poet"). It is this virtual self who speaks to us across the centuries and is our guide through the landscape of medieval soul-space.
  • ... Around the country several hundred science-and-religion ("S&R") courses are taught each year at colleges and universities. ... Within a Christian context, three questions characterize much S&R discourse: Can the universe described by science also be seen as the creation of the Judeo-Christian God? Can that God act within the scientific universe—and if so, how? Finally, can the Christian story—with its specific claims about the incarnation of God in the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth, and its promise of resurrection—continue to make sense in light of modern-science?
  • By far the most famous outsider physicist today is a wealthy man. Stephen Wolfram is his name, and aside from being one of the youngest people to win a MacArthur Prize Fellowship, he was a mathematical prodigy who graduated with a Ph.D. from Caltech at the age of twenty. After he won the MacArthur, Wolfram left academia to forge a path of his own and made a fortune developing a software package used by scientists all over the world. Wolfram's wealth enabled him to pursue work on his own "Theory of Everything" unencumbered by the demands of academic tenure, and in 2002 he presented his ideas in a twelve-hundred-page, self-published book called A New Kind of Science ... Encompassed in Wolfram's theory was a new explanation for space and time, a new explanation for the laws of thermodynamics, a new account of the creation of the universe, an explanation for the origin of life, and his own account of free will.
  • In many respects the mythico-religous dimension of Pythagoras' life bears an uncanny resemblance to the life of Christ depicted in the New Testament. Both men are said to have been the offspring of a god and a virgin woman. In both cases their fathers received messages that a special child was to have been born to their wives—Joseph was told by an angel in a dream; Pythagoras' father, Mnesarchus, received the glad tidings from the Delphic oracle. Both spent a period of isolation on holy mountain, and both were said to have ascended bodily into the heavens upon their deaths. Furthermore, both spread their teachings in the form of parables, called akousmata by the Pythagoreans, and a number of parables from the New Testament are known to be versions of earlier Pythagorean akousmata.

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