Why has mathematics proved such a useful tool in modern science? That is the question asked by Eugene Wigner in his essay, "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences," which he published in February 1960, in Communications in Pure and Applied Mathematics, Vol. 13, No. 1. Wigner received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1965. The provocative title of his essay does not indicate that he is able to explain why mathematics is so useful in the natural sciences. This adds interest to this portion of his work as well as to both mathematics and physics. I hope I will be able to find useful things to say about his essay, things that may provide a measure of comfort to those of us (including me) who lack a deep familiarity with the abstruse and arcane reaches of mathematics and the natural sciences. And in particular how it happens that their connection has proved so fruitful.
Offered remotely via Zoom, these free online public lectures complement the curriculum of the Basic Program. Each month, an instructor or guest lecturer discusses texts and ideas explored in the four-year program or from our wider range of course offerings. First Friday lectures allow the public and our students to hear instructors speak on their own scholarship or interpretation of a text, in contrast to the discussion method of our classrooms. A period of question and answer follows the talk.