Mathematician Eugenia Cheng: ‘Yes, I am an anarchist!’

Nicola Davis:

Eugenia Cheng is a British mathematician who is senior lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her main interest is higher-dimensional category theory but she has also written a book about the maths of baking entitled How To Bake Pi. Her latest book is Beyond Infinity: An Expedition into the Outer Limits of Mathematics.

What is higher-dimensional category theory? Can you describe it in a sentence?
It is the mathematics of mathematics. It does for mathematics the same thing that mathematics does for the world – it makes connections between things and it highlights patterns between things, so that we can be more efficient about how we use our brain power.

You’ve declared your vision is to ‘rid the world of mathematics phobia’. How do you erode it once it has taken hold?
Unfortunately, the kind of maths we teach in school is often not in any way useful for most people’s lives – people say “When am I ever going to need to solve a quadratic equation in my life?” The kind of maths I teach is about logical thinking, thinking your way through situations, understanding what is causing something to happen and working out how things fit together.