James Grime: FOOL FOR MATHS*


James Grime is a mathematician with a private ardour for maths communication and the promotion of arithmetic in colleges and to most people. He could be largely discovered doing precisely that, both touring the world giving public talks or on YouTube.

James has a Ph.D. in arithmetic and his educational pursuits embody group idea (the arithmetic of symmetry) and combinatorics (the arithmetic of networks and fixing issues with diagrams and photos). James additionally has a eager curiosity in cryptography (the arithmetic of codes and secret messages), likelihood (video games, playing and predicting the long run) and quantity idea (the properties of numbers).

James went on to review arithmetic at Lancaster College. He was attracted by the problem of the analytical and inventive thought required in a maths diploma, but it surely was in all probability the dearth of essays and the studying record he discovered most engaging. Later, James went to York College with the intention of getting a Ph.D. and avoiding the actual world for not less than one other three years. He was profitable on each counts.

In his spare time, James has many hobbies, together with juggling, unicycling and a large number of different circus abilities, and has lastly embraced the truth that his final function in life could also be merely to make a idiot of himself in public.*



Michael Paul Goldenberg: Welcome, James. It’s very thrilling to have an opportunity to talk with you.


James Grime: Hello Michael, I’m very completely happy to be right here.


MPG: I’ve needed to ask you this for years, James: the place did you give you the title, “The Singing Banana,” or would that be giving freely a deep secret?


JG: Ha! In case individuals don’t know, singingbanana is my authentic YouTube channel. When individuals ask me in regards to the title I prefer to fake that it’s a wonderfully affordable title for a maths channel. The reality is, I’ve been utilizing singingbanana as my web title since I used to be 17 – when the web was younger. I took the title from my college tuck store [Editor’s note: “canteen” to us Yanks] which itself was impressed by an advert from across the time. In order that’s the title I naturally used after I first received a YouTube account – I by no means meant it to turn out to be so public. Having stated that, I don’t need to change it, I prefer it.


 MPG: It’s extraordinarily memorable and evocative of a bunch of issues. So which got here first, your individual video channel or Numberphile? How did you turn out to be concerned with Brady Haran and the mathematicians and scientists who contribute there?


JG: My very own channel was first. It began within the early days of YouTube and the movies I uploaded had been vacation movies and movies of me juggling. Then sooner or later a good friend confirmed me a puzzle he had give you, which was good however I wasn’t proud of the set-up for the puzzle. So I recorded a unique model of the puzzle simply to point out my good friend. To my shock, a couple of different individuals noticed the video, so I believed I’d make one other maths video. And that was the beginning of it.


A couple of years later Brady launched Periodic Movies, his chemistry channel. I confirmed this to individuals in my division and stated, look that is what we must be doing. There wasn’t a lot enthusiasm. I wrote a Guardian weblog in regards to the rise of science on YouTube together with channels like Periodic Movies and I contacted Brady saying if he ever makes a maths channel to let me know. And he did.


 MPG: One of many first movies of yours I noticed was on non-transitive cube. You had been introducing some gear you’d developed and your enthusiasm was like nothing I’d ever heard or seen from a mathematician. Except for the intriguing arithmetic with which I used to be partially acquainted (although I’d by no means seen cube that might be efficiently performed in opposition to two opponents concurrently!), I used to be captivated by the joy you had been capable of convey. Is {that a} frequent response you get?


JG: Thanks! I at all times consider in main by instance. And if I need individuals to be excited and eager about arithmetic, how can I anticipate them to be if I don’t look and excited. So I try to current in that manner. I bear in mind one YouTube remark that stated I used to be like a youngsters’s TV presenter. I believe they meant that as an insult, however that’s form of what I’m going for!


I don’t come from an instructional background. So it was youngsters’s TV that received me eager about science and maths. What’s nice about YouTube is that it reaches youngsters everywhere in the world, lots of whom don’t come from educational backgrounds both.


 MPG: It’s hardly authentic for me to look at that many individuals, fairly probably most individuals, think about arithmetic to be a quite dry topic that might by no means engender the kind of ardour you specific. Would you touch upon the position of on-line movies in altering that notion?


 JG: Completely. And I perceive what you imply in regards to the notion of maths being a really dry topic. Mathematicians don’t consider that however have to get our enthusiasm throughout. I believe it’s essential to humanize the topic, to see an actual particular person – with all their quirks – somebody who’s eager about what they’re speaking about. Even when you don’t perceive all of it, you’ll be able to see the particular person’s enthusiasm. And other people reply to that. That’s one thing Numberphile has finished very effectively.


MPG: How outdated had been you if you began to contemplate critically changing into a mathematician? Who or what had been a few of the large influences in your taking that path?


JG: It was a secret ambition behind my thoughts. I believe I found that was a factor you may do after I was round 10 – and I discovered that by way of TV. It was presenters like Johnny Ball and the Royal Establishment Christmas Lectures that confirmed me that. Nonetheless, it appeared unlikely so I stored that ambition to myself, whereas quietly working in the direction of it.


Being a mathematician was at all times the aim, however I took it one step at a time, from A-levels, to school, to Ph.D. However a part of the plan had at all times been to pay again what these TV presenters had finished for me. So it wasn’t an accident after I began making maths YouTube movies. However nobody anticipated it to be as fashionable because it turned. And it has been an honor to pay again somewhat of what I skilled watching the presenters I watched as I baby.


MPG: Let me backtrack a bit: do you run into resistance and/or criticism of what you and others who’re utilizing YouTube to achieve schoolchildren and others about arithmetic they’d unlikely encounter in Ok-12 school rooms? I ask particularly as somebody who has encountered a pressure of staunch resistance from numerous mathematicians, engineers, and the like straying exterior the normal college arithmetic matters. Within the US, what has come to be referred to as “The Math Wars” has been happening for the previous quarter century. To these on one facet, all the things you’re doing can be termed “math avoidance,” quite than what I’d use rather more optimistic descriptors. Have you ever needed to take care of that form of factor?


JG: I haven’t had that downside. Possibly it’s as a result of the UK has a protracted custom of this type of public lecture for youngsters and most people. I do know the Royal Establishment Christmas Lectures return to Michael Faraday in 1825. I’m a fan of those lectures that introduce actual science in an accessible solution to younger individuals. It’s true that I’m attempting to point out individuals the attention-grabbing stuff past the varsity curriculum. analogy is how we be taught music. We’ve to be taught the fundamentals however we’re nonetheless allowed to take heed to nice classical pianists or your favourite pop star. In the identical manner, I’m attempting to offer inspiration and motivation for what college students be taught in class.


MPG: What’s considered one of your favourite movies out of your channel or Numberphile? What makes it particular to you? How do you think about academics making use of it with college students?


JG: That’s a extremely tough query to reply. I believe the most effective movies are those that stimulate your curiosity. I do know the preferred movies are ones about infinity or dividing by zero. I believe these are questions that plenty of college students of maths are eager about. There are some nice enjoyable ones, viewers I meet usually point out the video the place we attempt to order 43 rooster nuggets from McDonald’s – it may’t be finished by the best way!


 MPG: Inform us a bit in regards to the dwell shows you do. Who’s the viewers and what sometimes goes into your talks?


JG: I journey the UK and the world giving talks about maths, particularly, I speak in regards to the historical past and arithmetic of code breaking. It’s referred to as The Enigma Mission and I carry with me an authentic WWII Enigma machine – considered one of few left on the earth. I go to colleges and talking to college students of all ages, from major college to secondary college and faculties, in addition to universities, festivals and different occasions. It’s a pleasure to do and other people like it – as a result of codes are cool! Who doesn’t love spies and secret messages? The actual message behind all of it although is that it’s about fixing issues and to point out individuals what it’s prefer to be a mathematician.


 MPG: Any tasks within the works you’d like to inform us about?


JG: I’m at present engaged on a small exhibit with the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. It’s referred to as Codebreakers and Groundbreakers and might be open from the 23rd of October 2017 to February 2018. Primarily it’s about two code-breakers, Alan Turing who broke the German Enigma code in WWII and Michael Ventris who broke a forgotten Greek script referred to as Linear B within the Fifties. So though one was a mathematician and one was a linguist we try to point out that there are abilities these individuals shared. And the success of Bletchley Park in WWII was because of the collaboration of individuals from totally different disciplines.


MPG: Thanks a lot for sharing your time with us, James. I hope we will get extra individuals taking a look at arithmetic and science by way of the work you and the opposite people at Numberphile are doing. I can say sincerely that if one thing like this had been obtainable after I was in class, I wouldn’t have waited till my mid-thirties to start out taking part in critically with arithmetic.


 JG: Thanks!


*Therefore the title of this interview, coupled with my latest viewing of Robert Altman’s 1985 movie of Sam Shepard’s wonderful play, Idiot For Love.