Transcript: London Tsai and Eric Weinstein on The Portal podcast episode 14

The following transcript was generated by a machine and not edited by any human – so it’s full of of errors. I’m posting the transcript because the podcast is excellent and a crappy transcript is better than no transcript. Questions/comments: get me on Twitter @mgmobrien.

Eric Weinstein 0:15
Hello, I’m your host, Eric Weinstein and I’m here in Manhattan with artists London sigh a person I’ve been looking to meet for quite some time. And I just met him yesterday for the first time London. Welcome.

London Tsai 0:29
Thank you.

Eric Weinstein 0:30
So I have been eyeing your artwork for years on the internet. I’ve used it in talks. And you’re one of the most important people that we’ve had come on the portal even though very few people will know who you are or what you’ve been up to. Can you say a little bit about your background as a mathematical artist, my background

London Tsai 0:56
so my background as an artist

Well, I studied mathematics and undergrad, and

maybe I should start over.

So actually, I went, I went to college. And to admit you went to college, I went to the I did, and I wanted to actually study French literature and international relations. Okay. And my freshman year, I took the standard courses. And I really delved into 20th century French literature. And

Unknown Speaker 1:36
see, let’s do

London Tsai 1:37
this was a tough, so tough. Okay. So at Tufts, I took all these kind of liberal arts classes, humanities classes, and I was actually disappointed. I had all these ideas about like, what, what I wanted to accomplish in literature, and what I would learn and I would ultimately find some Sort of meaning, you know, some understanding of the world we live in. And instead, I was frustrated, and I didn’t seem to be able to get answers to the questions I had. And to my surprise, I was enjoying calculus, much more than any of the classes I took two years.

So what happened was that

by in my sophomore year, I declared my math major. Okay, so you came out of the closet came out closet, yeah. yourself as a

Eric Weinstein 2:36
pro mathematician. Yes. And

London Tsai 2:40
then, and then I, well, of course, I, I grew up in a artistic household. And I always thought I would, I would do some sort of artwork. But once I discovered mathematics, I found that

Unknown Speaker 3:02
That it was

London Tsai 3:05
his more artistic than anything that I had ever seen before is more creative. is more ingenious is more abstract with no author Nope, no author. Yeah, and it’s just, it’s just there and it’s and you could, you could study it and it was infinitely deep. You could you could pick up any part and you could just keep going. And everything just fit together so nicely and just wanted to see more and understand more. And then all the other mathematical writing that were that was on the blackboards. Like from the graduate classes and things like that. I wanted to understand what they were about and they must be representatives of some sort of world that I didn’t have access to at the time.

Eric Weinstein 4:03
So I’m looking into your eyes. I’m seeing something that looks like a religious convert or maybe like Ray Charles the first time he tried heroin or something.

Unknown Speaker 4:11
You got the bug. Absolutely. Okay. Yeah, absolutely. I

London Tsai 4:16
mean, it’s the only thing I thought about for six years. I just, you’re obsessed. I, I just dived into it. In fact, I I don’t think I had like, like, kind of this really strong mathematical ability. I was just fascinated by it. And, and for me, it didn’t come as naturally as it did for my brother. And I really had to struggle. I really had to. I felt it was it was a real challenge to my self worth. I felt like if I couldn’t do this, I couldn’t understand mathematics, that that life was just not worth living. Whoa, it was pretty It was like that. I just decided I would prove to myself that I could do it, and to the exclusion of almost everything else. So this

Eric Weinstein 5:11
is this is I mean, I’m joking around a little bit about heroin, but it does behave like that once you find out that there is a hidden world, and that this hidden world is strangely meaningful and that it’s clearly too beautiful to be constructed by any human mind. Like the most beautiful human minds can barely understand this world, but it’s more like they’re dusting off. I guess in my understanding, I think about like the ruins of Petra. And imagine that Petra were buried in sand and you were just whisking away sand and uncovering ruins you’d be pretty convinced that you weren’t authoring the ruins of Petra you would know that you didn’t build this thing but you Yeah, you know it’s just such a privilege to be able to touch something this beautiful that’s apparently an authored by anything known be human.

London Tsai 6:01
I mean, that’s kind of my feeling of

Eric Weinstein 6:04
reverence and transcendence.

London Tsai 6:07
Yeah. Like,

like there’s this kind of

eternal stillness in this world. You know, you I recently, I’ve just picked up the by old math texts. And the ideas there are just as fresh as they were, you know, 30 years ago when I was studying them, and they still have that pure beauty about them.

Eric Weinstein 6:34
Let me let you in a little bit on why I’m having you on this program. It’s not just because I’m so devoted to your work. It’s also because my belief is that we have the most beautiful symphonies in the world. locked inside of our journals, and our our math libraries, let’s say as text You know, you can ask, Well, if you have a symphony of Brahms? Is it a symphony if it only resides in the sheet music and is never performed? That’s a very disturbing question because the instructions for its performance are present. And it may be that a tiny number of people can actually read a sheet of sheet music and say, Oh my God, that’s gorgeous, because they can hear it in their head. But the rest of us actually need the thing to be performed. And yet there is no orchestra or analog of an orchestra that performs works of great mathematical or physical beauty.

London Tsai 7:39
Yeah, it’s true. I mean,

part of my interest in mathematics initially, was that I could take mathematics and the beautiful images that I saw, in my mind, yeah, during math class, and bring them out as artistic things

Eric Weinstein 7:59
well, so this is where I start to also get a little bit pissed off with you, which is no, I’m not kidding. Yeah, I’m angry about the fact that we have these papers and books that form the sheet music that’s never performed and then I find out that you exist and that you have been performing and recording effectively, these Masterworks and then what do you do with like the vinyl, you put it under bubble wrap in some loft in Soho in Manhattan, and it doesn’t come out for years or decades at a time. So effectively you’re sitting on some of the only known recordings, if you will, of some of the great Masterworks of the mathematical universe.

London Tsai 8:48

Unknown Speaker 8:50
What are you doing, man? I

Unknown Speaker 8:53
Well, I think

London Tsai 8:56
I think what’s what’s what’s happened is that I’m always kind of interested in the next idea or the next. The next theorem or the next project and all these things that are made by me just sort of, you know, after I’m done with it, it’s not

doesn’t seem that important anymore.

Unknown Speaker 9:21
Well, I think that’s great. And

Eric Weinstein 9:24
wherever is doing your PR and marketing, I’m firing, taking over. As somebody who studied mathematics, I had the same feeling I wasn’t necessarily made to do mathematics that wasn’t how my brain didn’t find the symbolic layer very easy. But I, I was exposed to things of such beauty and depth that I couldn’t find any other analog on planet earth once you understand how rich the mathematical universe actually is. You can’t believe that it was it was somehow just created out of logical necessity. And there’s a tiny portion of it that is actually visualizable by our visual cortex. And what’s odd is that when we talk about things as being visual in mathematics, we’re often talking about things that we can’t actually see. We have an intuition that comes from one, two and three dimensions. And then we have to take that intuition where we can actually visualize something, we construct a model of it. We have a series of tricks by which we use our minds to visualize things that we can’t actually see. I mean, I don’t even know what to call this process. I’m not sure if it has a description.

London Tsai 10:45
Yeah, I know you mean, it’s

it’s definitely an intuition that you have, and it’s some kind of vague mental image. And I what I have to do is I have to somehow Ha, in my artwork, I have to take this vague mental image. And try to make it concrete. And it’s, it’s not always

Eric Weinstein 11:10
well, this is the thing I now keep in mind, there are going to be people who are listening to this as audio, and then we will later release it as video. And I don’t know how much of it will be seeable on the channel. But one of the things is very interesting to me is that what happens in our minds, when we really start to open the portal to the deepest secrets that the universe has to offer is that we use this mixture and the mixture is some amount of the world that we can construct as models so that we can actually directly visualize it as if we could use our eyes to make a claim model of let’s say, an algebraic variety. And then there’s this extra intuition that we have to build in from texts and from symbology to remind ourselves that usually we’re not able to see the full totality of whatever it is we’re discussing and your art Very often has a geometric picture together with pros, that is kind of fading in and out of perceptibility together with a bunch of mathematical symbols that are describing what what has been constructed. And I thought that what’s very interesting is that that actually mirrors what a mathematicians model is of one of these higher structures that can’t be seen directly. But it’s basically intuition from a low dimensional thing that can be visualized together with prose and mathematical symbols that actually rigorously describe the object. And so that in some sense, it is a faithful recreation by combining, you know, gorgeous form, together with text and prose, and symbology in order to recreate the mathematical state that we mean by saying, well, that’s very that mathematics is very Visual. Yeah. So for example, behind you right now, there’s an amazing painting that I’ve seen. For years I think I’ve actually used in a talk at Columbia as the cover art. For the first slide of what I assume is Heinz Hoffs famous vibration from the early 1930s. And so it’s the series of interlocking partial Tournai. Each of which is filled up by circles.

Unknown Speaker 13:35
And it’s a very impressionistic,

Eric Weinstein 13:41
but also somewhat rigorous description of this object that on the Joe Rogan program I said maybe the most important object in the universe because when we talk about physics being ultimately a theory of waves, we want to know all What are those waves waves in what is the analog of the ocean for an ocean wave inside of physics. So those waves are waves in bundles. And the bundles come in two basic types for most most purposes, one is called a principle bundle, which is what you have behind you. And you’ve been so good as to put a depiction of another kind of bundle, which is sort of even closer to the wave concept of vector bundle, which is what is behind me. Now I think it’s very strange that we have all of these programs, let’s say on public television, or, you know, Brian Greene talking about the elegant universal all of these things. And yet when I ask people well, do you know you’re interested in wave particle duality? Do you know what the waves are waves in nobody seems to know about bundles.

London Tsai 14:49
It’s surprising. Well, it’s

Eric Weinstein 14:50
it’s disturbing. And the idea is that there are very few people depicting bundles artistically

Unknown Speaker 14:59

Eric Weinstein 15:01
Essentially the only person doing it is hiding their artwork away so that nobody even knows it’s there.

Unknown Speaker 15:09

Eric Weinstein 15:11
Well, no, I mean, like this, this is an important link, I guess is what I’m trying to say is is that you are somehow breaking the secrecy. It’s like, you know, promethium gave fire to man. Okay, well, you are now bringing bundles to the masses. And I think it’s, it’s fantastic. Because it allows people to skip the symbolic step, which is usually what, what leaves them out of participating, at least as observers of the emit amazing Museum of mathematical fines. Can you talk a little bit about what caused you to do these two works the principle bundle behind you which what is what do we call this? Hopf fibration behind

London Tsai 16:00
Yeah, Carla how fibration and behind me, I called it a purple vector bundle

Eric Weinstein 16:05
purple vector bundle. Alright, so we’ve got a principle bundle, which is the hot vibration purple vector bundle. Talk to me about what you were thinking when you create it.

London Tsai 16:13
Well, like so I had the fortune in undergrad to be the first advisee of an entrepreneur geometer. She was an assistant professor at the time, her name is Melissa tikki door. And she’s actually quite known in algebraic geometry. And she had this kind of deep kind of quiet confidence about her. And I would go to her office hours religiously, and I would sit there and annoy her with my questions from undergrad math. But she was always working with with a little pencil sharpened all the way to the eraser almost, and she would be always writing the word that led fpn a fiber bundle. So I was a freshman. And I was thinking to myself, what the heck is a fiber bundle? No one’s ever told me about that. And so I kind of one of one of the goals in studying math was to figure out just what it was that she was thinking about is what were these fiber bundles that she was constantly writing about. And so, in my mind, I always had this idea that I needed to understand that. And so that was kind of probably the, the germ of my interest in bundles. And then later on in grad school, I, you know, encountered them, and then later on, when I started painting, I just, I don’t know, we were talking about intuition earlier, and I just feel like there’s some sort of seeds in us, when we see lots of mathematical things, or anything in the world. And for that matter, there’s something that tells us well, this, there’s some content here and that it This is worthy of our attention. And somehow, these bundles, vector bundles, fiber bundles principle fiber bundles. Were just objects that to me were worthy of thinking a lot of time and thought and making artwork of. So I don’t really know what it was that drew me to them, except that I was drawn to them. And have you ever read cn Yang

Eric Weinstein 18:25
of Yang Mills theory fame talking about his discovery of the importance of fiber bundles? I think I have.

London Tsai 18:33
Yeah, it’s a short essay, right? He’s written a few, I think.

Eric Weinstein 18:38
But he talks about and I wish I had the exact quote here. Einstein was questing for a structure to unify physics. And in Yang’s estimation, the fiber bundle was the answer to Einstein’s quest. Now of course, this cropped up in something called colusa Klein theory Einstein used What we would now call, you know, the tangent bundle and cotangent bundle of space time. So he would, he would, let’s just throw some jargon out there. So a fiber bundle is sort of like the xy plane growing up and going off to graduate school. Yeah. And the analog of the x axis would be called the base space, and the y axis and all its translates, those vertical lines would be called the fibers and the xy plane would be called the total space. And in that story, the x axis gets replaced by space time, and the y axis gets replaced by various things like a 16 dimensional vector bundle to give the particles they’re 16 dimensions worth of personalities. They’re these things called spinners that are attached to something that you can visualize is the Philippine wine glance at wine glass dance.

Unknown Speaker 20:01

Eric Weinstein 20:04
sometimes you call this the the principle bundle that governs all of particle theory, the SU three cross su two cross u one bundle over space time and where each of those weird. Su three, for example is what we’d call a collection of super symmetries that form what mathematicians term a group. Same thing with su two and u one is just a fancy name for the circle. So behind you, what you see is a simplified version of a principle bundle that we might use for for doing physics research. But this one lives on top of a two dimensional sphere like the surface of the earth, and it adds an extra circle for every point in space and time. And those are the lines as I understand it. that are in these partial Torah that are nested behind you. So you’re, it’s it’s pretty tough going. But you’re almost able to visualize the structure on which electromagnetism, which is how you and I are looking at each other through photon exchange. And the way in which, you know, the magnetic, like if these microphones have magnetic membranes that are turning our pressure waves into electrical impulses, all of that is described in some sense by patterns attached to the circles on that painting, upgraded to make it a story of space and time, rather than just a story of circles over a two dimensional surface of the globe.

Unknown Speaker 21:59

Eric Weinstein 22:01
So it’d be pretty crazy. If it wasn’t like one of the coolest looking objects in the room. It is pretty cool,

London Tsai 22:05
right? I mean, the interesting thing about in about painting it or making it visual is that you actually have to cut away parts to reveal what’s the actual structure because

Eric Weinstein 22:16
it’s too densely

London Tsai 22:16
densely packed. So I’m only picking, you know, a select few of these core, I am only showing like, parts of them so I can see I can actually reveal what’s what’s what’s underneath because they’re all nested.

Eric Weinstein 22:32
Now, the odd thing is, is that before I knew about your work, I think and before I knew about I don’t know if you’ve encountered drawer barn Aton, who came up with a picture of this, which he termed planet hop, which I used. Hey, I think you pointed me Yeah, now I did version of this in a Python release by a group called n thought, and I got them to help me out. I had to use the transparency Have some of the visual structures to allow me to see through. So I didn’t have any occlusion phenomena, you don’t have that luxury with paint, right? It is very tough to see. But the fact that it can be seen, and I think this is a really interesting means that a giant chunk of physics and mathematics is almost within reach of the person who can’t trust her or his ability to negotiate the world of mathematical symbols. And, you know, this is a huge problem that a lot of people think that they’re bad at music in the West, because our music is so dependent on notation. However, in lots of cultures, notation isn’t what carries music. It’s just personal instruction. And a lot of those people who are bad at symbols would be good at music, if it were in any other culture that wasn’t symbolically so dependent and I view this as being well what if I was in a culture in which mathematics was transmitted as much symbolically fair, unfair.

London Tsai 24:05
It’s an interesting approach.

I’m not totally sure. But yeah, I can maybe I can buy that. Because Well, one of the things that that drew me to math was was the actual, the actually symbols actually.

Eric Weinstein 24:20
Well, I want to talk about this mathematical art movement that has never been named.

Unknown Speaker 24:25

Eric Weinstein 24:26
Right. I’m going to try to figure out what name to give it later. But like, tell me if any of the following have impacted you. JOHN Archibald Wheeler, who was fireman’s teacher. Yep. Very famous physicist. He seemed to have an incredible passion for doing the kinds of things you’re doing on blackboards to give these masterful lectures. Have you ever encountered his Blackboard? No, I haven’t. Okay. Let me try another one. Roger Penrose Who wrote the road to reality is of course, a relatively famous person drew the first copy of the hot fibration that I’d ever seen strikingly like your own if you’ve seen that. I have I

London Tsai 25:13
have that book. Yeah, it’s reality. And I have some, some of his more recent books as well. But I think the first picture of operation I ever saw was Bill Thurston in his three dimensional geometry and topology.

Eric Weinstein 25:28
Oh, these are these were these the Princeton lecture notes that were never released as a book or do they eventually become eventually became book? Okay, yeah, this is the things that mathematicians would trade these these. Yeah, I heard mimeograph notes that weren’t quite books, but we would all look at them. And we felt like we were looking into secret tomes that only some people could have.

London Tsai 25:49
That’s right. I think later became a book and that’s when I when I first saw it.

Eric Weinstein 25:52
So Bill Thurston, of course, was famous within mathematics as being a fields medalist who contributed to Grecia Perelman’s program for solving the punker a conjecture in dimension three, proving that any sphere that was sufficiently simple from its algebraic properties had to actually be the three dimensional version of the sphere.

London Tsai 26:18
Did you know Bill Thurston? No, I didn’t. I knew people who knew him.

Eric Weinstein 26:24
I knew him a little bit. He came through Harvard when I was a graduate student there. And one of one of the comments he made, he said, you want to know what keeps this field great. And I said, Tell me, he said, in any other field, if a fields medalist came through, that’s like a Nobel Prize winner at the top of the field, it would be a big deal. And he said, Here I am sitting with a bunch of you guys at some salad bar after my talk, because we’re just not that pretentious. And I thought, that’s interesting because he recognized that he would be a big shot and he really valued the fact that not What was being made over his presence beyond the mathematics?

Unknown Speaker 27:03
That’s a great, yeah.

London Tsai 27:07
In fact, I was reading his book on my honeymoon. I brought it along him that

Unknown Speaker 27:13
Oh, you really have Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 27:18
We were just we were in Honolulu

London Tsai 27:20
and we had this nice place with a beautiful Lanai and here I was reading thirst and and that’s when I saw

Unknown Speaker 27:30
Well, you had beauty for Yes, I was.

Eric Weinstein 27:36
What is it that you think you’re supposed to be doing? I mean, you have this ability to understand mathematics and you have the ability to look into your own mind and see, well, how is it registering? And then you have the ability to externalize it. That’s a relatively unusual skill set. I mean, there’s I shouldn’t meant continue mentioning remaining names. Fomenko is this crazy mathematical artist. I like the fact that Bathsheba Grossman is doing some beautiful mathematical sculpture, a guy named Nico Meyers and in I guess Temecula is doing hot vibration sculpture right now. Wow. Okay, well, in part because, you know, we’re now talking about this on these large programs and rather than people just turning off and saying, Well, I don’t know what that was because it’s visual people are getting super intrigued and just going out and trying to learn the math for themselves, including artists, right. So I think that what there needs to be is this is a movement I mentioned an artist named Luke jerem. Who did these beautiful glass sculpture of pathogens and viruses and like Melton he does malaria and HIV and it’s just absolutely stunningly beautiful. Who are obviously MC Escher is probably the biggest mathematical artists of them all right? Why aren’t there more people working in this movement? Why isn’t the movement named Why aren’t you guys collected? Why aren’t there exhibitions of this stuff? Why, why? Why? Why?

Unknown Speaker 29:20

London Tsai 29:21
I don’t really know. It could be that.

It could be that the people who feel that they can actually do this stuff

don’t really have.

And maybe it’s just the mathematics is too attractive to them. You know, it’s like, you’d rather do math and then make paintings about math or make representations of it. You know, it’s so much more beautiful to spend your time. Like the analogy I have is a mountaineer. You know, you’d rather be out climbing your mountains. They have been alright. You know,

Unknown Speaker 30:01
I mean the issue with you, okay?

Eric Weinstein 30:05
Tell me you don’t feel cut off from people who you can’t show this to like you’ve gone someplace on a on a trek as a mountain near, which is so spectacularly gorgeous. You can’t even believe that it exists. Yeah. And you have somebody you love who’s not knowledgeable. And you know, you’re trying to figure out well, can I charter a helicopter? Can I get this person to get into really good physical shape and make the long trek? Is there any way I can bring back a picture that can communicate? I guess I feel cut off from everyone on the planet who hasn’t seen that the stuff exists and is real,

Unknown Speaker 30:43
don’t you?

Unknown Speaker 30:46
I do I

London Tsai 30:48
mean as an artist.

As a contemporary artist, I’m often told not to, not to mention the math behind my work. Don’t do that. I mean, General people just say they’re not interested in the math. They’re not.

Eric Weinstein 31:08
Or maybe you’re not supposed to mention it, but I’m certainly

London Tsai 31:13
it’s, I think people when they see some, that there is mathematics behind it, I think it scares them off. Yeah. And most people have bad memories of their mathematical upbringing or education that they, they have this reflex to just turn away from it.

Eric Weinstein 31:34
What’s like the bad ex boyfriend problem is that if you meet somebody who’s had a bad relationship, they’re always going to live through some of that trauma in every subsequent relationship. And I think that we have to recognize, you know, we talked about it genic harm as the harm done by physicians to patients, and we have to talk about math, the genic harm, where there is this like Destruction of the love and appreciation for the beauty of math that is mediated by math teachers and mathematicians and math professors. Like somehow we’re keeping the baby for ourselves. Yeah. And a large number of people have no idea they’ve just been like, and they’ve had their knuckles wrapped with a ruler, and they’re now in some damaged state. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 32:25

Eric Weinstein 32:27
I guess when you look at this stuff, some percentage of people say I don’t get it. It’s not that interesting. leaves me cold. And some other percentage of people are gonna look at it and say, I’ve got to figure out what that was about. I didn’t know that that was there. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 32:45
Are you connected with any of these people I mentioned?

London Tsai 32:49
Um, you mean the people that are not like Bathsheba Grossman? Oh, no, no, no, I know. I know how they are. Yeah, yeah. I think I think You and Andrew had the claim bottles during that interview. Oh, Andrew. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Eric Weinstein 33:08
Sorry. Are you a Yang supporter? Yeah. Okay. Well, so he’s got these math hats. I would love Yeah. Sorry. Coming Yang. I think I should get my

Unknown Speaker 33:18
hands on one. Yeah.

Eric Weinstein 33:20

Unknown Speaker 33:24
what do you so

Eric Weinstein 33:26
to some extent, this is actually not the first generation of mathematical or physical art in your family. Am I right that your father somehow was, was mining this vein as well?

London Tsai 33:38
Yeah. So my father,

trained as an engineer and worked as a mechanical engineer for for 10 years, quite successfully in New York City. And the whole time he wanted to be an artist, and he was painting at the Art Students League. And he made all these paintings figurative and an abstract and so on. Then he won a prize for painting. And then the stipulation for the prize was that he had to quit his engineering career and devote himself to art. And upon quitting, he found he couldn’t paint anymore. And he kind of did some soul searching traveled around the world. And that’s when he realized that there was something that he could do with his engineering background. Somehow he could bring engineering and science into his artwork. And that’s when he started developing his cybernetic sculptures. And any never turned back. You always make these kind of scientific engineering

Unknown Speaker 34:49
I just saw them yeah, first time your

Eric Weinstein 34:51
your studio. Yeah, they’re gorgeous. I mean, I love your stuff. And I love I didn’t know that I was gonna love his he had these gorgeous standing waves Yeah. And then by the use of clever use of stroboscopic light and he’s able to freeze them and show this like very subtle motion that would otherwise be lost. And, you know, I think that the wave equation, which is a, you know, a particular class of equations, well known in mathematics is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. And to be able to visualize waves is precious to me. astounding that I wasn’t aware of his work. Yeah.

London Tsai 35:37
I think the lesson from my father, he never thought of himself as a scientist or as a technological artist. And he thought of himself just as an artist. And I think what he was trying to say with that was that technology and science there, they’re not alone. Like kools, or that you could just say, Oh, that’s a technological artist, that these are just things that as artists that are part of our culture, part of our society, that we have a right to use them just as, as much as in a professional scientists do. And I think in that way, I think of myself as an artist, not as a mathematical artist, but as an artist. And it turns out that having seen mathematics and having been exposed to mathematics, it just, it’s just like part of humanity that I’ve incorporated in myself. And the artwork that I make, has those features because that’s kind of my life experience. So I’m not sure that we can we can turn this on Movement has mathematical art. But I think we’re just artists who are kind of expanding our, our understanding to those realms that are difficult for for most people to reach. And I think but that’s part of what it means to be human, you know, in it.

Eric Weinstein 37:20
We don’t call I mean, just to make your point. We don’t call Salvador Dali, a mathematical artist and yet, you know, if he puts Jesus on a four dimensional polytopes in the case of a test director, hypercube we just accept that he’s mining some amount of mathematics right. As an inspiration for his art. You know, the development of the use of linear perspective wasn’t viewed as mathematical art. A lot of like art, I mean, if you think about vests or rally, I think that a lot of those patterned structures that he depicted, that appear to be showing curvature by using various optical tricks. We don’t call that mathematical art necessarily, however, you are going beyond that. And so I don’t know whether it’s exactly fair tool, avoid the label, and I’ll try to come up with a better one. But, you know, I, I often look at my own soul for lack of a better word. And I realized that I may not be able to believe in angels or religious origin stories, but I still have a place in my consciousness or my heart or whatever you want to call it, that wants to be connected with something larger than the human experience. I don’t want to just die on a random rock and having it all, you know, as Shakespeare said, signifying nothing. And one of the things that I actually take Spiritual solace from is that at a minimum, there is this world of structures that would have passed by completely unknown, like the Hopf fibration, which was only found in the 1930s. So we have people who are alive who are older than the knowledge that the Hopf fibration exists. And the these things are like angels, we know that they’re they’re not speculative. And we know that we didn’t create them. And we know that they seem to be transcendent. And I would just assume fill my life with transcendent structures that are beyond any kind of human authorship and not call, you know, I mean that the art here to me is your decision to depict this and the way in which you chose to depict it but the source that you’re mining has nothing to do with our humanity.

Unknown Speaker 40:01
I see.

Eric Weinstein 40:02
Right? Yeah, I mean, like, in essence, the thing that you have behind you right now is, to me a modern picture of an angel, where I can’t believe in angels, but I can believe in principle fiber bundles, generating the world of electromagnetic activity, which then grew up and not only became Maxwell’s equations became at every kind of force other than gravity.

London Tsai 40:33
I mean, yeah, maybe math is not.

It’s not a product of humanity. But I feel that the kind of the struggle to understand math and to create these mathematical texts, I mean, that in itself is us that has a very human aspect to it. And that’s one of the products I’m trying to express in my art is just trying to express that even maybe even though math is not a human thing, it’s a much deeper it’s a universal thing. But that it’s practice is human. And then I want to show the humaneness by that’s what you’re doing. Yeah, me you’re not

Unknown Speaker 41:23
you’re just humanized an angel. Right?

London Tsai 41:26
Yeah, I wouldn’t bring that out. Yeah, it’s very important that the, the, the hand of the artist be present, kind of like expressing the difficulty that as a human being, I have to try to

Eric Weinstein 41:41
tell you, I see the struggle that you know, I look at all of the text that’s going in and around the color or in the charcoal drawings, and I struggled to read it. It’s hard to read it because it’s not presented to be read in a in a story. typical fashion. And I love the fact that it is slightly irregular. And it shows in some sense, a perfect structure that cannot be depicted perfectly right? Yeah. Do you ever feel like freaked out being in direct touch with these other worldly structures?

London Tsai 42:22
I feel inadequate. Yeah.

That no matter how much time I spend with them, there’s a can really never quite grasp it. in its totality, it’s somehow beyond my reach. And of course, you know, then sometimes I blame Oh, well, maybe that’s my ability. I’m just not. I just don’t have no

Eric Weinstein 42:46
I think we have to back away from how creepy it is. that these things are even there to be found. You know, I typically give the example of exceptional lead groups or exotic Seven spheres which are structures people can look up if they if they dare. As things that both make me feel not alone and make me feel vaguely terrified, you know, it’s like what if a cigar shaped objects started hovering over the earth and it didn’t do anything, like malignant. But we knew it wasn’t from us. And we don’t we didn’t know what it was. didn’t show any signs of life, other than the fact that it was there.

London Tsai 43:35
When I was a child, I used to have dreams like that. nightmares like that. And this is long before I knew anything about math, I would dream about these huge surfaces. And I was so tiny, like the size of the ad. And they would be so smooth. Yeah, like infinitely some, even I had no idea what that meant. But they were so smooth and they were terrified. And maybe That’s kind of like my very first kind of mathematical experience, just just these things that appeared in my dreams.

Eric Weinstein 44:10
Now, one of the weird things that we’re doing on this podcast is we’re picking on people who don’t necessarily know that we’re coming and promoting what they do. And we call this reverse sponsorship. And the hope is, is that if we have a successful business, and we can pick on it, that as we generate interest in that business from our audience, that maybe some of those businesses will come and sponsor the portal and keep us on the air when we go into very difficult topics. I’m not going to ever ask that of you. But I would I do want to say that in some sense, this episode is part of something akin to reverse sponsorship. I think that the biggest problem and you tell me if this rings true or not, is that a lot of us do work that never gets curated by a second person. Then in general, I used to think curation was a parasitic behavior. If you couldn’t create, you could point at things that were great. And I later realized with my own stuff, that until somebody else said, Hey, this person is saying something that you don’t actually get heard or processed, because you can’t actually curate yourself. Somebody else has to be the pointer and saying, hey, people pay attention. And I think it’s way past time that this be done for you. I know most mathematicians don’t have large audiences. This is not a feel me physics has a few tiny number of physicists who have large audiences, but I really believe that it’s essential for a curation process to happen with this kind of work so that people can see more of what is out there are you Are you open for business? Will you sell your work? Are you I found you on the internet?

London Tsai 46:07
Yeah, sure.

Unknown Speaker 46:08
Yeah. Yeah.

Eric Weinstein 46:10
Okay. So hopefully, supporters of the program can look for London and his storefront on the internet somewhere. What about exhibiting with other artists and showing this kind of new wave of whatever we want to call it other than mathematical art?

London Tsai 46:34
Right? I’m open to that. Oh, yeah, absolutely. So you would do it. You do like the show? Yeah, of course.

Eric Weinstein 46:42
Are you up for like suggestions? I’ve been horrible to you. I’ve told you a bunch of things that I’ve never seen depicted and asked you to look in on is that is that an overbearing question?

London Tsai 46:52
No, that’s a good that’s a great. Well, I did. I did a series of talks when I lived in Seattle and The so yeah, so I went to University of Washington, where I knew a couple mathematicians. And it was a series of works. I called demonstrations. And it was kind of inspired by Da Vinci’s kind of scientific drawings, the most high Sione. And so I invited u dub mathematicians to supply me with theorems, yeah. of theirs. And I would attempt to come up with my own interpretation. And so that was a that was a fun project. Yeah, I got to know a few mathematicians at the U dub. And but yeah, that that sort of collaboration was was something I was very interested in, but 10 years ago,

Unknown Speaker 47:51
and what are you thinking about now?

London Tsai 47:54
What am I talking about now? I’m always open to new ideas, and your list of Topics is a printer I carry with me every day. So I’m always literally on the subway. Yeah. Yeah. So, uh, to Sunday to finger until your senior index here. Yes. China grab my head around that.

I think you had something of a Corvair

Unknown Speaker 48:20
Corvair. covariant barrier. Yes. Yes. Yeah. It’s gorgeous stuff.

London Tsai 48:26
Yeah. And so I, yeah, I look at it. And I have my I have my mathematician friends and I have a whole library of math textbooks that I try to consult.

Eric Weinstein 48:39
So maybe, if I’m correct, the vector bundle painting that is behind me is masking. Another work that’s underneath it. Maybe we could take the top painting off and take a look at what you have there. Okay, sure. Don’t sell this to anyone until you’ve let me bid

London Tsai 49:02
If you look at these little fibers, they sort of look like my depth. I saw that anyways. Yeah, that’s Gordon. He’s always kind of in the back of my mind, of course. Part of my inheritance. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 49:16
We’re gonna start. Okay.

Eric Weinstein 49:19
All right. So London. Yeah, you’ve just unveiled this other structure. And I’m looking at it, and it’s on its side from what I normally expect so that we can get it into the shot. That’s right. Yeah. But what it looks to me like is that you’ve taken the light cone on which particles with no rest mass or waves with no rest mass propagate inside of the special theory of relativity. And then you sort of showed this algebraic How do you say algebraic generation. So it looks like I’m looking at some mass shells. Yeah, and this diagram that should be familiar from Einstein’s famous and this marvelous of 1905, when he figured out special relativity has been sort of augmented with this extra structure of of mass shells and hyperboloid. And what can you say about what motivated you here?

London Tsai 50:26
Well, so I painted a painting of some of my favorite things from calculus three quadric surfaces. And I showed it to Lauren.

Unknown Speaker 50:41

London Tsai 50:43
he said, Well, that’s very interesting, but

can you tell me how they’re related?

And so that was a direct challenge from Laurie. And so I thought about well, if I Certain parameter this has happened. But as I went from one of these types of surfaces to the other time, from the hyperboloid of two sheets, to the hyperbola, one sheet I had to go through the cone. And so I showed that relation No, that was

basically the idea behind that piece. Or Yes.

Unknown Speaker 51:27
Do you find

Eric Weinstein 51:31
sort of any comparable source of rich imagery from any other area other than let’s say mathematics and physics?

London Tsai 51:45
I would say nature

Unknown Speaker 51:49
are you as fascinated by

London Tsai 51:54
I’m not maybe I’m not as fascinated by it. But you know if I’m walking on the beach and I pick up some shelves,

Eric Weinstein 51:59
No, no, it’s unbelievably gorgeous. But I have to admit that nature weirdly though, it completely inspires me and I think no less than it inspires other people. I’m weirdly slightly less inspired by physical nature than I am by what we might call mathematic. I have to say I’m the same. Although I am. I’m a scuba diver.

London Tsai 52:26
I’m a downhill skier.

Eric Weinstein 52:27
Yeah. Data skiing is pretty close to differential john.

London Tsai 52:31
Yes, it is. Yeah. I’m constantly think about the curvature. Right? terrain I’m on

Unknown Speaker 52:36
Yeah. What are you fascinated by in scuba diving?

London Tsai 52:40
scuba diving, when I go, when I go down, I just see the strange sea creatures residing on on the ocean floor or you know, on the coral reefs and

Eric Weinstein 52:52
the shapes of the particular ones you’re obsessed with.

London Tsai 52:56
I can’t say I’m obsessed about and I just find them interesting. Yeah.

Eric Weinstein 53:00
But I thought maybe cuttlefish. cuttlefish mean the skin of the cuttlefish is a nearly mathematical phenomena if you’ve ever watched them propagate these waves through the chromatic fours on the skin when they’re mesmerizing their prey before they strike the patterns it’s sort of like times square with some giant neon sign that’s, you know, moving through these pulses of light. And I have

London Tsai 53:29
never seen that diving. Okay,

Unknown Speaker 53:31
but yeah.

Unknown Speaker 53:34
And in music, what do you find yourself most inspired by? Um,

London Tsai 53:41
I like, Well, when I work in my studio, I’m often listening to jazz, usually Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck or

Unknown Speaker 53:53
you know,

Eric Weinstein 53:54
Dave Brubeck obviously famous for experimenting with funny time signatures which is somewhat mathematical Yeah.

London Tsai 54:01
I also listen to like classical music.

Unknown Speaker 54:03
Yeah, so favorite composer?

Unknown Speaker 54:06

London Tsai 54:09
Mozart Rachmaninoff.

Eric Weinstein 54:11
Really? I never trust a mathematician who doesn’t say Bach first. Oh, Bach. That’s

London Tsai 54:15

Eric Weinstein 54:16
Okay, well, no, maybe the idea of your jam when it comes to the I do love friend

London Tsai 54:21
of her country. Oh yeah, yeah, I’m back to that.

Eric Weinstein 54:26
And are you at all familiar with any of these attempts to push math and reverence for math out to the general public that are somewhat off of the direct depiction? I don’t know if you’ve ever seen my friend Edward Frankel’s short film loving math. Then he wrote a book

London Tsai 54:51
No, I don’t think I’ve seen that but I

Eric Weinstein 54:52
slightly erotic art film Really? Okay.

Unknown Speaker 54:55
No, yeah.

Eric Weinstein 54:58
And I guess you know, one of the things that I I’m very frustrated by is that it’s just so difficult to communicate it. A counter example to this would be, have you ever been to the Exploratorium in San Francisco?

London Tsai 55:11
Yeah, a long time ago, a couple of decades ago.

Eric Weinstein 55:15
So Frank Oppenheimer, who was Robert Oppenheimer, his brother created this totally anomalous science museum that was much more effective so far as I could tell, in conveying the wonder of science in a way that people actually got some kind of a take home like it was viscerally engaging. And yet, I didn’t see that kind of science museum duplicated anywhere else. Yeah. Does that. might that be a paradigm where someone somewhere could do something truly unique with the visual depiction of geometry and topology, let’s say and completely crack this open? I mean, like today The Promethean analogy, all it really takes is one of us to steal fire effect. Mm hmm.

London Tsai 56:08
Yeah, that might work. Have you been to the Google math museum? In Madison Square Park?

Eric Weinstein 56:14
I’ve been to the Matthews area. Yeah. Is Google sponsoring

London Tsai 56:19
sponsored by Google? I didn’t even I didn’t think it was okay. I didn’t know I just assumed like,

Eric Weinstein 56:24
yeah, it was somewhat inspiring. Yeah, but But yeah, a lot of this stuff is sort of strangely slightly off. There’s this beautiful limestone wall, in Stony Brook, mass, Stony Brook Long Island that has some of the most beautiful formulas in all of mathematics and some pictures. But it to me, even that has like errors and flaws and it doesn’t fully evoke what it is that it was trying to depict.

London Tsai 56:58
I feel like we’ve failed Yeah, I feel that too. I mean, that’s partially why I, I don’t think of my art as mathematical art because I don’t want it to be associated with this kind of like, oh, bring math to the people, that kind of thing. It has to be somehow something. I mean, like the wonder of math that we experienced. Yeah, that that is not. I don’t I don’t feel that when I go and look at these kind of displays of Mathematica. Oh, how interesting how these things fit together, right? And you’re like, Okay, let me just, you know, play with this a little bit and then move on to this other exhibit. And here now, what

Unknown Speaker 57:39
did you feel when you when you look at Asher?

Unknown Speaker 57:41

London Tsai 57:45
I didn’t. Well, my initial reaction when people say, Oh, you’re a math major, you should love Asher. I think that’s great.

Eric Weinstein 57:54
You know, I’ve used the art and the math is somehow strangely separate and it was a great way of getting a story. certain amount of math out into the world. Yeah. But I did. And I found him quite artistic. I just didn’t feel that the art and the math were always kind of hand in glove.

London Tsai 58:12
Yeah, like, well, first of all, like, symmetry groups of the plane. I mean, that’s, that’s cool. But still, there’s it’s it. It doesn’t capture the real depth of math. Yeah, there’s so much more to math and just kind of pretty patterns or symmetrical patterns. Are you obsessed with physics?

Not as much as I,

as I wish to be. Yeah.

Eric Weinstein 58:38
I think one of the great mysteries for me has been Why is it physical universe is such an amazing client of the best mathematics. Right, right. Like you’ve done this with substandard mathematics, maybe just a little bit of calculus and cement linear algebra, but it just goes way above and beyond and actually uses our best stuff. Our most beautiful stuff. And I always thought that was quite odd that it didn’t have to be the way the biological world does not seem to use mathematics in the end I truly profound level. There’s some cute stuff with like Fibonacci sequences. Right. But I would say that the biological world mostly turned up its nose that the mathematical offerings that that were possible, right?

Unknown Speaker 59:22

London Tsai 59:25
I can’t say I see physics and math is so

Eric Weinstein 59:28
like, intertwined, intertwined. Well, you know, there’s this expression, the map is not the territory. And I think that the weird thing about physics is that physics may be the one place in the real world in which the map that is the math that describes it may actually be the territory that is, it would not astound me, if life really was about vector bundles, principle bundles and wave equations that take place upon you.

Unknown Speaker 59:53

Eric Weinstein 59:55
yeah. So, um, we’re gonna try to figure out how to get you is probably Have an exhibition so people can come and see your work. And they can find you on the internet. You have a site.

London Tsai 1:00:08
Yeah. So my site is just London tie calm. It’s TSI.

Eric Weinstein 1:00:12
Yeah. Okay. And first name improbably is London

London Tsai 1:00:16
ello n di n.

Unknown Speaker 1:00:18
Yeah. And

Eric Weinstein 1:00:21
other than that, we’re gonna continue plugging your work pointing people to your Instagram page and trying to drum up some interest so that you’ll make more of this gorgeous stuff for all of us.

London Tsai 1:00:33
Well, thank you very much, Eric London. It’s been a pleasure

Eric Weinstein 1:00:35
having you. You’ve been through the portal with London sigh look for him on Instagram on Twitter and most most importantly for at his website and consider making a bid to keep me from buying this art. I think you’ll find that it’s just gorgeous stuff.

Unknown Speaker 1:00:51
Look for us.

Eric Weinstein 1:00:54
The portal on Apple on Spotify on Stitcher or wherever you listen to podcast Please subscribe and go over to YouTube and see if you can subscribe to us there and click the bell icon to make sure that you’re notified when our next episode drops. Hopefully if you’ve listened to this on audio, you will go over there and watch it on video. So you’ve had a little bit of a taste of the great stuff that London has been to London. Thanks very much.

Unknown Speaker 1:01:19
Thank you. All right, everybody.