There is no denying that Edward Frenkel loves mathematics and loves telling other people about it. We can be sure that he loves some people, family and colleagues, since he comes across as perhaps even charming, and it is difficult to become so charming if you wouldn’t love some people – psychopaths excluded.
See for example these three video’s currenlty also on his website: (a) the Colbert show, (b) with Chris Carter at the Los Angeles Library Foundation, (c) with Eric Weinstein at the Speyer Legacy School. I pity you though if you feel that you have to sit through all sessions as I did, see my first criticism.
However, we cannot infer that Edward Frenkel loves other people indiscriminately, alas. That would be a different issue. His book title “Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality“ may well be deceptive since it has religious and literary tunes that do not fit science and its popular science expositions.
In loving everyone, it even is harder to define what “love” would mean. It is perhaps awkward to refer to Vladimir Putin again, who will be surely loved by many Russians, but who will not immediately spring to mind to many in the EU or USA when considering Frenkel’s proposition, except when we dwell a bit longer on the hidden reality issue.
A definitely more serious author on love is Dewanand, “A thousand ways to love“. Earlier I favourably reviewed Dewanand’s “Holland: Paradise or Hell?”. His other book on love has a review that I agree with. Thus, if you are interested in love, read Dewanand, and, if you must, consider Edward too.
Edward Frenkel is a seriously confused person. His argument is that people should discover the beauty of mathematics. He accepts that people will not do so, since apparently the system of education has gone wrong. Instead, Frenkel decides to use the emotional rather than the cerebral approach (Slate). Thus, he doesn’t present the beauty of mathematics but some concoction that merely suggests it. It beats my mind how this could ever convince anyone, except that it shows to everyone again that research mathematicians are serious nutcases.
“So much damage has been done in terms of the way mathematics is misunderstood by our society. It has essentially become impossible to talk to most people directly about it. With the film Rites of Love and Math, which I made four years ago with the French director Reine Graves, the idea was to penetrate some of those defenses—to talk about math indirectly by appealing to the emotional rather than to the cerebral.” (Frenkel in Slate).
Another step in Frenkel’s delusion is the way how he links mathematics to art, and in particular mathematician Kurt Gödel to Vincent van Gogh – see the Speyer video, after minute 60. See my book “A Logic of Exceptions“ or this brief exposition that Gödel was deluded himself. I am much in favour of good mathematics education so that the world can get rid of the delusions by Kurt Gödel and the cult of logicians around this. Van Gogh remains a fascinating artist, with the advantage that everyone can see this for himself or herself.
Another step in Frenkel’s delusion is that he adopts the idea of tattooing a message onto a woman’s skin. This idea was already used by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in the film “Submission”, directed by Theo van Gogh, nephew of the painter, assassinated here in Holland on November 2 2004, soon 10 years ago.
When seeing that formula in the trailer, my first question was: “What does that formula mean ?” But the trailer doesn’t provide any clue. In the Slate interview, Frenkel says:
“In the film, we show a formula being tattooed onto the skin, becoming part of the body, and we hoped that this would allow the viewer to think about mathematics differently. The best reward was when somebody from the audience would raise his or her hand and ask, “But what does the formula mean?” which was exactly the point.”
I don’t see the point. Why not put the formula on a blackboard and not torture the poor damsel ? Why not start out with what it would mean, so that we can check that it is correct without disturbing the poor damsel ? Why think that the emotional cabal will cause improved education in mathematics ? Why would it cause people to study that supposedly improved education in mathematics ?
In the Los Angeles Library Foundation video, we hear that Edward Frenkel is a Platonist, who thus believes that mathematical ideas have some form of “objective” existence out there just waiting to be discovered (unless he is confused about this). Surprisingly, Chris Carter, the creator of The X-Files turns out to believe in God (not further specified) (unless he is confused about this). It must be mentioned that The X-Files are a form of fiction. A scientist should be very careful in dealing with this. It so happens that I myself enjoy writing Science Fiction, but I use another name for doing so.
I think that Frenkel crosses the line when suggesting that one should approach math as The X-Files. This series teases the audience from one episode to the other, and there is no meaningful message. (So it isn’t good SF after a while.)
A point remains that this combination of Platonism / God and “love thy neighbour” brings us to the issue of Jesus Christ. It so happens that I wrote a booklet on “The simple mathematics of Jesus“. Thus, there are all kinds of proper connections, but Edward Frenkel succeeds in confusing them.