Why is 3 so much bigger than 2?

Ben Barber

Wednesday, February 13 2019 at 7:30PM

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Ben Barber

What's the talk about?

Maths is about patterns—spotting patterns, then working out whether they carry on forever.  Sometimes you spot patterns in the patterns—similar things happen in different settings—and then you have to ask "why?".

There are lots of places where changing a 2 to a 3 makes all the difference, turning a problem we can solve into one so complicated we may never be able to understand it.  Two player games can be played perfectly by a computer (in theory) but three player games cannot.  It's easy to tell whether exams can be scheduled across two time slots so that no students have any clashes, but very hard to tell whether three time slots are enough. 

In this presentation, Ben Barber will explain some examples of this phenomenon, then speculate wildly about what is going on.


Ben Barber is a mathematician at the University of Bristol, where he counts the things that don't need to be counted.  He likes to tell stories, and most other things you can do on a stage.