‘The Universe Speaks in Numbers’ – Interview 2


Atiyah & Maxwell photo
Atiyah & Maxwell photo, 1 Nov 2018

In an interview with Graham last November, Sir Michael Atiyah described how he became a ‘quasi-physicist. Ten weeks later, Atiyah was dead. He was one of the most accomplished mathematicians of the past century: no one had done more in the past decades to discover close links between pure mathematics and fundamental physics. Undoubtedly a great mind, he was also an indomitable spirit.

On the day before the interview, Michael said that he almost died after suffering what he believed to be a mini-stroke. Perhaps his relief at still being alive partly explains his fast-talking exuberance that morning, as he describes his training in Cambridge, his broad-minded approach to mathematics and his fascination with the mathematical potential of physics theories that came to the fore in the 1970s. He talks passionately about Hermann Weyl – who made huge contributions to mathematics and physics – and the natural philosopher James Clerk Maxwell – these were Atiyah’s heroes.

This is the second of twenty interviews given by world-class experts to Graham on some of the themes he explores in The Universe Speaks in Numbers. A new interview will be posted weekly.

Among the interviewees are Nima Arkani-Hamed, Ruth Britto, Simon Donaldson, Freeman Dyson, Val Gibson, Michael Green, Juan Maldacena, Michaela Massimi, Martin Rees, Simon Schaffer and Lenny Susskind.

Universe Speaks book cover
Published on 2 May in the U.K., 28 May in US and Canada