Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison
Ellenberg: 'Put pressure on all of your beliefs.'
Jordan Ellenberg, nationally recognized UW-Madison mathematics professor and author of the recent bestselling book How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, did something very unmathematical Thursday night: He made a last-minute change in plans.
Rather than discuss ways in which math touches everything we do, as previously promoted by the Wisconsin Book Festival in partnership with the Wisconsin Science Festival, Ellenberg focused on a small section near the end of his 470-page book by encouraging the standing-room-only crowd of several hundred people in the Central Library's Community Room to embrace both uncertainty and contradiction.
After all, renowned statistician Nate Silver’s methods of probability -- the opposite of certainty -- helped him correctly forecast the outcome of the 2012 U.S. presidential election, enraging traditional pundits who built their careers on being certain. Ellenberg also suggested that contradiction complements uncertainty and results in greater certainty. "Put pressure on all of your beliefs," he told his audience. "If you can't talk yourself out of your beliefs, you end up better understanding why you believe what you believe."
Funny and inspiring (especially for a numbers guy), Ellenberg delivered his rapid-fire ideas while dropping numerous references to Madison, Star Trek, the late novelist David Foster Wallace and the World Series-bound Kansas City Royals.