Talk: The Futurama Theorem

November 5, 2011 — Leave a comment

On November 3, 2011, I gave a talk in the Mathematics Forum at Gordon College about the Futurama Theorem. The Futurama Theorem is a theorem about the symmetric group that was developed for and proved in the episode “The Prisoner of Benda” for the TV show Futurama. The theorem was proved by show writer Ken Keeler, who has a PhD in applied mathematics from Harvard. During the episode, Professor Farnsworth and Amy invent a mind swapping machine and after they swap minds, they realize that the machine cannot be used on the same pair of bodies again. After several characters swap minds, they are confronted with the problem of putting everyone’s mind back where it belongs. The Futurama Theorem proves that regardless of how many mind swaps have been made, all minds can be restored to their original bodies using only two extra people. If you want to know more, check out the slides. As a side note, this is the first talk that I have given using deck.js, which allows you to view the slides directly in your web browser. To advance the slides, just use your arrow keys. Also, note that I used MathJax to typeset all of mathematical notation and I was able to embed a single-cell instance of Sage to do some live computations.

Dana Ernst

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Father of two boys, husband, mathematician, cyclist, trail runner, rock climber, and coffee drinker. Columnist for MAA blog Math Ed Matters.