Milano   11/3/1998 - 14/3/1998

Nuovo Spazio Guicciardini Via Macedonio Melloni, 3


What’s in a number?

  1. Original Title: What’s in a number?
  2. Director: Edmund Coulthard
  3. Scientific Advisor: Jan Stewent, Greenlaw Lavinia
  4. Editor: Paul Carlin
  5. Photography: James Welland e Patrick Duval
  6. Sound: Richard Flynn, Daniel Brooks, Mack Nelson
  7. Production: XYTV / Channel Four - Elite Television-Meanwood
  8. United Kingdom
  9. 51 min.
  10. 1996

Numbers are unquestionably a part of our everyday life. They are a way to communicate, they enable us to describe nature, they tell us about history and the future, they are a valuable tool scientists can use to formalize their ideas.
Despite that, numbers are a nightmare for many people. “Difficult, awful and boring” are the adjectives used by a passer-by in the documentary to describe mathematics. And this opinion is shared by many! For others, numbers are a serious neurological problem - some individuals are unable to manage them because the brain areas that control this function are damaged. Life is a real challenge for these people: even simple actions like shopping, making a telephone call or choosing the right bus home are impossible for them.
Those who love, understand and work with numbers – be they mathematicians or not – know how valuable they are. In the documentary some of them, such as Roger Penrose, describe to the audience big challenges such as finding the numeric value of π, tell the story of numbers and their unexpected links with apparently unconnected disciplines like philosophy or art.
The outcome is an entertaining journey into the world of numbers, marked by a few big questions: are numbers an invention or a discovery? Why are some people more at ease with numbers than others? Can we assume that mathematics might be different elsewhere in the universe? Why cannot science do without numbers? Both the questions and the answers highlight the beauty and creativity of mathematics to such an extent as to cause even the most skeptic member of the audience to wonde.

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