📅 The Calculus of Comedy: Math in The Simpsons, Futurama, and The Big Bang Theory at UCLA’s IPAM on 10/25

The Calculus of Comedy: Math in The Simpsons, Futurama, and The Big Bang Theory (IPAM (Special Events and Conferences))
When: Wednesday, October 25, 2017, from 4:30 PM – 6:30 PM PDT Where: UCLA California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), 570 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90095 While there is no mathematical formula for writing television comedy, for the writers of The Simpsons, Futurama, and The Big Bang Theory, mathematical formulas (along with classic equations and cutting-edge theorems) can sometimes be an integral part of those shows. In a lively and nerdy discussion, five of these writers (who have advanced degrees in math, physics, and computer science) will share their love of numbers and talent for producing laughter. Mathematician Sarah Greenwald, who teaches and writes about math in popular culture, will moderate the panel. The event will begin with a lecture by bestselling author Simon Singh (The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets), who will examine some of the mathematical nuggets hidden in The Simpsons (from Euler’s identity to Mersenne primes) and discuss how Futurama has also managed to include obscure number theory and complex ideas about geometry. Tickets: Tickets are $15 each and seating is limited, so reserve your seat soon. Tickets can be purchased here via Eventbrite (ticket required for entry to the event). A limited number of free tickets will be reserved for UCLA students. We ask that students come to IPAM between 9:00am and 3:00pm on Friday, October 20, to present your BruinCard and pick up your ticket (one ticket per BruinCard, nontransferable). If any tickets remain, we will continue distributing free tickets to students on Monday, Oct. 23, starting at 9:00am until we run out. Both your ticket and BruinCard must be presented at the door for entry. Doors open at 4:00. Please plan to arrive early to check in and find a seat. We expect a large audience.

Okay math nerds, this looks like an interesting lecture if you’re in Los Angeles next Wednesday. I remember reading and mostly liking Singh’s book The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets a few years back.

The hard core math crowd may be disappointed in the level, but it could be an interesting group to get out and be social with.

My review of The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets from Goodreads:

I’m both a math junkie and fan of the Simpsons. Singh’s book is generally excellent and well written and covers a broad range of mathematical areas. I’m a major fan of his book Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe, but find myself wanting much more from this effort. Much of my problem stems from my very deep knowledge of math and its history as well as having read most of the vignettes covered here in other general popular texts multiple times. Fortunately most readers won’t suffer from this and will hopefully find some interesting tidbits both about the Simpsons and math here to whet their appetites.

There were several spots at which I felt that Singh stretched a bit too far in attempting to tie the Simpsons to “mathematics” and possibly worse, several spots where he took deliberate detours into tangential subjects that had absolutely no relation to the Simpsons, but these are ultimately good for the broader public reading what may be the only math-related book they pick up this decade.

This could be considered a modern-day version of E.T. Bell‘s Men of Mathematics but with an overly healthy dose of side-entertainment via the Simpsons and Futurama to help the medicine go down.

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🔖 Spontaneous fine-tuning to environment in many-species chemical reaction networks | PNAS

Spontaneous fine-tuning to environment in many-species chemical reaction networks by Jordan M. Horowitz and Jeremy L. England (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)
Significance A qualitatively more diverse range of possible behaviors emerge in many-particle systems once external drives are allowed to push the system far from equilibrium; nonetheless, general thermodynamic principles governing nonequilibrium pattern formation and self-assembly have remained elusive, despite intense interest from researchers across disciplines. Here, we use the example of a randomly wired driven chemical reaction network to identify a key thermodynamic feature of a complex, driven system that characterizes the “specialness” of its dynamical attractor behavior. We show that the network’s fixed points are biased toward the extremization of external forcing, causing them to become kinetically stabilized in rare corners of chemical space that are either atypically weakly or strongly coupled to external environmental drives. Abstract A chemical mixture that continually absorbs work from its environment may exhibit steady-state chemical concentrations that deviate from their equilibrium values. Such behavior is particularly interesting in a scenario where the environmental work sources are relatively difficult to access, so that only the proper orchestration of many distinct catalytic actors can power the dissipative flux required to maintain a stable, far-from-equilibrium steady state. In this article, we study the dynamics of an in silico chemical network with random connectivity in an environment that makes strong thermodynamic forcing available only to rare combinations of chemical concentrations. We find that the long-time dynamics of such systems are biased toward states that exhibit a fine-tuned extremization of environmental forcing.

Suggested by First Support for a Physics Theory of Life in Quanta Magazine.

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👓 First Support for a Physics Theory of Life | Quanta Magazine

First Support for a Physics Theory of Life by Natalie Wolchover (Quanta Magazine)
Take chemistry, add energy, get life. The first tests of Jeremy England’s provocative origin-of-life hypothesis are in, and they appear to show how order can arise from nothing.

Interesting article with some great references I’ll need to delve into and read.


The situation changed in the late 1990s, when the physicists Gavin Crooks and Chris Jarzynski derived “fluctuation theorems” that can be used to quantify how much more often certain physical processes happen than reverse processes. These theorems allow researchers to study how systems evolve — even far from equilibrium.

I want to take a look at these papers as well as several about which the article is directly about.


Any claims that it has to do with biology or the origins of life, he added, are “pure and shameless speculations.”

Some truly harsh words from his former supervisor? Wow!


maybe there’s more that you can get for free

Most of what’s here in this article (and likely in the underlying papers) sounds to me to have been heavily influenced by the writings of W. Loewenstein and S. Kauffman. They’ve laid out some models/ideas that need more rigorous testing and work, and this seems like a reasonable start to the process. The “get for free” phrase itself is very S. Kauffman in my mind. I’m curious how many times it appears in his work?

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📅 Entropy 2018: From Physics to Information Sciences and Geometry

Might be attending Entropy 2018: From Physics to Information Sciences and Geometry
14-16 May 2018; Auditorium Enric Casassas, Faculty of Chemistry, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain

One of the most frequently used scientific words, is the word “Entropy”. The reason is that it is related to two main scientific domains: physics and information theory. Its origin goes back to the start of physics (thermodynamics), but since Shannon, it has become related to information theory. This conference is an opportunity to bring researchers of these two communities together and create a synergy. The main topics and sessions of the conference cover:

  • Physics: classical Thermodynamics and Quantum
  • Statistical physics and Bayesian computation
  • Geometrical science of information, topology and metrics
  • Maximum entropy principle and inference
  • Kullback and Bayes or information theory and Bayesian inference
  • Entropy in action (applications)

The inter-disciplinary nature of contributions from both theoretical and applied perspectives are very welcome, including papers addressing conceptual and methodological developments, as well as new applications of entropy and information theory.

All accepted papers will be published in the proceedings of the conference. A selection of invited and contributed talks presented during the conference will be invited to submit an extended version of their paper for a special issue of the open access Journal Entropy. 

Entropy 2018 Conference

Faculty of Chemistry, University of Barcelona, BCN, Spain

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👓 Something New For Baby To Chew On: Rocket Science And Quantum Physics | NPR

Something New For Baby To Chew On: Rocket Science And Quantum Physics by Lynn Neary & Julie Depenbrock (NPR)
The books introduce subjects like rocket science, quantum physics and general relativity — with bright colors, simple shapes and thick board pages perfect for teething toddlers. The books make up the Baby University series — and each one begins with the same sentence and picture — This is a ball — and then expands on the titular concept.

Ooh! We definitely need more books like these in early childhood education.

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🔖 Can entropy be defined for and the Second Law applied to the entire universe? by Arieh Ben-Naim | Arxiv

Can entropy be defined for and the Second Law applied to the entire universe? by Arieh Ben-Naim (arXiv)
This article provides answers to the two questions posed in the title. It is argued that, contrary to many statements made in the literature, neither entropy, nor the Second Law may be used for the entire universe. The origin of this misuse of entropy and the second law may be traced back to Clausius himself. More resent (erroneous) justification is also discussed.
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🔖 The “Hard Problem” of Life by Sara Imari Walker & Paul C.W. Davies

The "Hard Problem" of Life by Sara Imari Walker, Paul C.W. Davies (arXiv)
Chalmer's famously identified pinpointing an explanation for our subjective experience as the "hard problem of consciousness". He argued that subjective experience constitutes a "hard problem" in the sense that its explanation will ultimately require new physical laws or principles. Here, we propose a corresponding "hard problem of life" as the problem of how `information' can affect the world. In this essay we motivate both why the problem of information as a causal agent is central to explaining life, and why it is hard - that is, why we suspect that a full resolution of the hard problem of life will, similar to as has been proposed for the hard problem of consciousness, ultimately not be reducible to known physical principles. Comments: To appear in "From Matter to Life: Information and Causality". S.I. Walker, P.C.W. Davies and G.F.R. Ellis (eds). Cambridge University Press
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🔖 Origins of Life: A Problem for Physics

Origins of Life: A Problem for Physics by Sara I. Walker (arXiv)
The origins of life stands among the great open scientific questions of our time. While a number of proposals exist for possible starting points in the pathway from non-living to living matter, these have so far not achieved states of complexity that are anywhere near that of even the simplest living systems. A key challenge is identifying the properties of living matter that might distinguish living and non-living physical systems such that we might build new life in the lab. This review is geared towards covering major viewpoints on the origin of life for those new to the origin of life field, with a forward look towards considering what it might take for a physical theory that universally explains the phenomenon of life to arise from the seemingly disconnected array of ideas proposed thus far. The hope is that a theory akin to our other theories in fundamental physics might one day emerge to explain the phenomenon of life, and in turn finally permit solving its origins.
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🔖 Statistical Mechanics, Spring 2016 (Caltech, Physics 12c with videos) by John Preskill

Statistical Mechanics, Spring 2016 (Physics 12c) by John Preskill (Caltech)
An introductory course in statistical mechanics.

Recommended textbook Thermal Physics by Charles Kittel and Herbert Kroemer

There’s also a corresponding video lecture series available on YouTube

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👓 Exoplanet Puzzle Cracked by Jazz Musicians | Quanta Magazine

Exoplanet Puzzle Cracked by Jazz Musicians by Joshua Sokol (Quanta Magazine)
A system of seven Earth-like exoplanets appeared to be unstable. Now their orbits have been rewritten in the music of the spheres.

I’m not sure there’s necessarily a correlation between the physics and the music other than that it’s a relationship. Perhaps there’s some interesting example one could drag out for category theory perhaps?

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👓 The Quantum Thermodynamics Revolution | Quanta Magazine

The Quantum Thermodynamics Revolution by Natalie Wolchover (Quanta Magazine)
As physicists extend the 19th-century laws of thermodynamics to the quantum realm, they’re rewriting the relationships among energy, entropy and information.
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🔖 From Matter to Life: Information and Causality by Sara Imari Walker, Paul C. W. Davies, George F. R. Ellis

From Matter to Life: Information and Causality by by Sara Imari Walker, Paul C. W. Davies, George F. R. Ellis (Cambridge University Press)
Recent advances suggest that the concept of information might hold the key to unravelling the mystery of life's nature and origin. Fresh insights from a broad and authoritative range of articulate and respected experts focus on the transition from matter to life, and hence reconcile the deep conceptual schism between the way we describe physical and biological systems. A unique cross-disciplinary perspective, drawing on expertise from philosophy, biology, chemistry, physics, and cognitive and social sciences, provides a new way to look at the deepest questions of our existence. This book addresses the role of information in life, and how it can make a difference to what we know about the world. Students, researchers, and all those interested in what life is and how it began will gain insights into the nature of life and its origins that touch on nearly every domain of science. Hardcover: 514 pages; ISBN-10: 1107150531; ISBN-13: 978-1107150539;
From Matter to Life: Information and Causality
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👓 Physicists Uncover Geometric ‘Theory Space’ | Quanta Magazine

Physicists Uncover Geometric ‘Theory Space’ by Natalie Wolchover (Quanta Magazine)
A decades-old method called the “bootstrap” is enabling new discoveries about the geometry underlying all quantum theories.

In the 1960s, the charismatic physicist Geoffrey Chew espoused a radical vision of the universe, and with it, a new way of doing physics. Theorists of the era were struggling to find order in an unruly zoo of newfound particles. They wanted to know which ones were the fundamental building blocks of nature and which were composites. But Chew, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, argued against such a distinction. “Nature is as it is because this is the only possible nature consistent with itself,” he wrote at the time. He believed he could deduce nature’s laws solely from the demand that they be self-consistent. Continue reading “👓 Physicists Uncover Geometric ‘Theory Space’ | Quanta Magazine”

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IPAM Workshop on Regulatory and Epigenetic Stochasticity in Development and Disease, March 1-3

IPAM Workshop on Regulatory and Epigenetic Stochasticity in Development and Disease (Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics, UCLA | March 1-3, 2017)
Epigenetics refers to information transmitted during cell division other than the DNA sequence per se, and it is the language that distinguishes stem cells from somatic cells, one organ from another, and even identical twins from each other. In contrast to the DNA sequence, the epigenome is relatively susceptible to modification by the environment as well as stochastic perturbations over time, adding to phenotypic diversity in the population. Despite its strong ties to the environment, epigenetics has never been well reconciled to evolutionary thinking, and in fact there is now strong evidence against the transmission of so-called “epi-alleles,” i.e. epigenetic modifications that pass through the germline.

However, genetic variants that regulate stochastic fluctuation of gene expression and phenotypes in the offspring appear to be transmitted as an epigenetic or even Lamarckian trait. Furthermore, even the normal process of cellular differentiation from a single cell to a complex organism is not understood well from a mathematical point of view. There is increasingly strong evidence that stem cells are highly heterogeneous and in fact stochasticity is necessary for pluripotency. This process appears to be tightly regulated through the epigenome in development. Moreover, in these biological contexts, “stochasticity” is hardly synonymous with “noise”, which often refers to variation which obscures a “true signal” (e.g., measurement error) or which is structural, as in physics (e.g., quantum noise). In contrast, “stochastic regulation” refers to purposeful, programmed variation; the fluctuations are random but there is no true signal to mask.

This workshop will serve as a forum for scientists and engineers with an interest in computational biology to explore the role of stochasticity in regulation, development and evolution, and its epigenetic basis. Just as thinking about stochasticity was transformative in physics and in some areas of biology, it promises to fundamentally transform modern genetics and help to explain phase transitions such as differentiation and cancer.

This workshop will include a poster session; a request for poster titles will be sent to registered participants in advance of the workshop.

Speaker List:
Adam Arkin (Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory)
Gábor Balázsi (SUNY Stony Brook)
Domitilla Del Vecchio (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Michael Elowitz (California Institute of Technology)
Andrew Feinberg (Johns Hopkins University)
Don Geman (Johns Hopkins University)
Anita Göndör (Karolinska Institutet)
John Goutsias (Johns Hopkins University)
Garrett Jenkinson (Johns Hopkins University)
Andre Levchenko (Yale University)
Olgica Milenkovic (University of Illinois)
Johan Paulsson (Harvard University)
Leor Weinberger (University of California, San Francisco (UCSF))

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🔖 IPAM Workshop on Gauge Theory and Categorification, March 6-10

IPAM Workshop on Gauge Theory and Categorification (Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics at UCLA - March 6-10, 2017)
The equations of gauge theory lie at the heart of our understanding of particle physics. The Standard Model, which describes the electromagnetic, weak, and strong forces, is based on the Yang-Mills equations. Starting with the work of Donaldson in the 1980s, gauge theory has also been successfully applied in other areas of pure mathematics, such as low dimensional topology, symplectic geometry, and algebraic geometry.

More recently, Witten proposed a gauge-theoretic interpretation of Khovanov homology, a knot invariant whose origins lie in representation theory. Khovanov homology is a “categorification” of the celebrated Jones polynomial, in the sense that its Euler characteristic recovers this polynomial. At the moment, Khovanov homology is only defined for knots in the three-sphere, but Witten’s proposal holds the promise of generalizations to other three-manifolds, and perhaps of producing new invariants of four-manifolds.

This workshop will bring together researchers from several different fields (theoretical physics, mathematical gauge theory, topology, analysis / PDE, representation theory, symplectic geometry, and algebraic geometry), and thus help facilitate connections between these areas. The common focus will be to understand Khovanov homology and related invariants through the lens of gauge theory.

This workshop will include a poster session; a request for posters will be sent to registered participants in advance of the workshop.

Edward Witten will be giving two public lectures as part of the Green Family Lecture series:

March 6, 2017
From Gauge Theory to Khovanov Homology Via Floer Theory
The goal of the lecture is to describe a gauge theory approach to Khovanov homology of knots, in particular, to motivate the relevant gauge theory equations in a way that does not require too much physics background. I will give a gauge theory perspective on the construction of singly-graded Khovanov homology by Abouzaid and Smith.

March 8, 2017
An Introduction to the SYK Model
The Sachdev-Ye model was originally a model of quantum spin liquids that was introduced in the mid-1990′s. In recent years, it has been reinterpreted by Kitaev as a model of quantum chaos and black holes. This lecture will be primarily a gentle introduction to the SYK model, though I will also describe a few more recent results.

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