The Man Who Saved Geometry

Escher's "Circle Limit" as inspired by Coxeter

Escher's "Circle Limit" as inspired by Coxeter

Didn’t know that geometry was once at the brink of extinction? Neither did I. But then I didn’t know I cared. Until this film forced me to imagine a world without geodesic domes and origami. Dull for sure.

“The Man Who Saved Geometry” is less about the once declining artform and discipline of this math, thankfully, and more about the man who inspired other great thinkers of the 20th Century, H.S.M. “Donald” Coxeter.

His work in the third and fourth dimensions was so subtly mind-blowing, apparently, that architect Buckminster Fuller (of geodesic dome fame) dedicated his life’s work to the man.  Dutch artist M.C. Escher, know for his mind-bending illustrations, was friends with Coxeter and joked about spending his days “Coxetering” – meaning he was working out the “bones” of his next print.

As a young man, Coxeter was a composer of music and was so talented he seemed destined to make a career of it. But music was only one component in a world that was filled with beauty and symmetry – all things reverting back to geometry.

Listening to the interviewees in this film, the awe of 3- and 4-dimensional mathematics was contagious – I paused the film for a moment and Googled origami patterns. Unfortunately, the passion others had for Coxeter was not so contagious. Not that he didn’t seem a curious enough man. But the film felt split in two by the emotionally uncomfortable interviews of the ailing, 95 year-old man, the daughter he had spurned, and the flat narration that attempted to knit the man’s personal life into the man’s life’s work. Clunky dramatic re-enactments also detracted from the otherwise spellbinding subject matter.

This TVO documentary is free to watch here.

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One response to “The Man Who Saved Geometry

  1. Hi, Ilka!
    I watched yesterday the film. I am a biologist. I became interested because in my research some structures were called Coxeter helix by mathematicians.
    You can see the beauty of my work at:
    http://www.cell-division-program.com
    and at
    http://www.universitytorontofraud.com/cell_proliferation.htm

    Michael Pyshnov.

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