Saturday, February 10, 2018

A Coxeter Biography

Donald Coxeter is old and frail in this telling, yet made it to Hungary at age ninety-five, for a 21st century geometry conference.

Professor Coxeter is the man to whom RBF dedicated his two-volume snapshot of a work in progress, sometimes referred to as "syngeom", however given a formal title of Synergetics for the Macmillan publishings.  Its subtitle:  Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking.

The writer for this film is Siobhan Roberts, who wrote the book with the same subtitle (The Man Who Saved Geometry), as well as a bio of John Horton Conway, who features prominently, as another Coxeter fan with deep insight into what these polytopes and hyper-dimensional sphere packings were all about.

Having someone who has done so much homework write the script makes for confidant, as well as intimate, storytelling.

We come to see Donald as bravely defiant in the face of intellectual currents intent upon driving his kind (the Euclideans) from the face of the earth, though perhaps they were joking (Bourbaki was a practical joke).

Serious or not, geometry needs its champions in any age if the inter-generational torch is to be passed.  Mandelbrot, among others, drew great solace from Coxeter, as his own work was likewise veering into the visualizable, too accessible to Everyman for an elitist core to bless as orthodox.

Not that higher dimensional polytopes are all that visualizable or renderable in the vernacular, though with projections into 3-space they are at least tourable (as gems with many rooms).  The Euclideans gave us something to strive for that's right brainy, as in exciting to graphical imagination.  At least Coxeter Diagrams won acceptance, as they verged on being purely lexical.

When the story gets to Fuller, the Montreal Dome of the 1967 World Expo gets the most focus, as well it should, as Dr. Coxeter was Canadian and his first encounter with geodesic domes was at this Expo, at least on a grand scale.  A treasure trove of archival scenarios unfurls.

My thanks to David Koski for underlining the relevance of this film.  Because I'd read the book and watched a Siobhan's address to the Gathering for Gardner crowd, I somehow assumed I'd seen this, but I had not, until tonight.