Francis Su speaker event: A beautiful mind 

By Jenna Bunescu | Staff Writer

Speaker Francis Su gives a lecture on Mathematics for Human Flourishing in Weyerhauser Hall at Whitworth University, Thursday, Sep. 21, 2023, in Spokane, Wash. | Madison Stoeckler/The Whitworthian.

Francis Su, professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd College and Harvard Ph.D. graduate, held a speech at Whitworth University educating the audience on the beauty of mathematics. The speech looked at what it means “to be human through the lens of mathematics.”  

Su presented the stories of three people who fell in love with math, one of them being an inmate incarcerated for 32 years. “There’s something wonderful and enchanting that he is finding in mathematics,” said Su in an interview. “He is spellbound by it, and any of us could fall under that spell if we just open our minds to its wonders.” 

What is the purpose of learning mathematics? Francis Su’s book, Mathematics for Human Flourishing, provided the answer. Here he accentuated the idea that mathematics places us in the pursuit of beauty. He stressed the idea that learning math has absolutely nothing to do with “learning to be a better calculator,” but that it gives us the chance to see “patterns in the world.” 

Su said that the ability to see life more richly can be acquired by anyone since mathematics is a skill like any other. There is no barrier to entry or intellectual prerequisite. He said he disagrees with the idea that mathematics is for the select few. He said that the educational system has ingrained into us the fallacy that some people are “math people” and some are not. In his book, he said he highlights the sides of the culture of math that are detrimental and destructive to its learners, like the intense competitiveness that it encompasses. “To dissolve these presumptions, people need to start seeing math as inherently human,” said Su. 

In one’s pursuit of mathematics, Su’s advice is to be “creative and persistent.” The books he recommended to engage one’s mathematical thinking are Eugenia Cheng’s How to Bake Pi, and Jordan Ellenberg’s How Not to be Wrong. 

The event took place on Thursday, September 21 at 7:00 p.m. in Weyerhaeuser Hall, room 107. 

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