University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

Physics Education Seminar

Friday, April 27th 2018
3:35 pm:
Speaker: Dr. Sashank Varma, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Minnesota
Subject: How We Understand Mathematics

Mathematicians, logicians, and philosophers have contemplated for millennia the question of how people understand mathematics – of how its concepts can be both abstract and unreasonably effective for describing the physical world and engineering it to our purposes. Over a much shorter time scale – the last 50 years or so – psychologists and neuroscientists have begun taking a naturalized approach to this question, regarding mathematics as a phenomenon to be explained using the scientific method. This research has revealed how people understand fundamental numerical and arithmetical concepts, the neural correlates of this understanding, and its remarkable conservation across evolution and development. And increasingly, this research is revealing the mental mechanisms that support understanding of advanced, abstract concepts from number theory, geometry, and topology. In this talk, I review some of this research, including my own work. I also connect these scientific efforts to earlier, more introspective efforts to understand the nature of mathematics.

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