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North Star Podcast


Sep 28, 2020

My guest today is Grant Sanderson, the man behind one of the world's largest math-focused YouTube channels: 3blue1brown. He has more than 3 million subscribers and his videos have been watched more than 150 million times.

Before making videos he studied math and computer science at Stanford before working at Kahn academy. On YouTube, he brings a visuals-first approach to math. Every video starts with a narrative or storyline. Then it revolves around imagery that illuminates the beauty of mathematics. Topics for his videos include linear algebra, neural networks, calculus, the math of Bitcoin, and quantum mechanics.

This episode begins with a conversation about the culture of mathematics. We talk about ideas like prime numbers, the Twin Primes conjecture, and pop culture's role in advancing mathematics. Later in the episode, we talk about mathematical constants and the rate of progress in mathematics. Then, we close by talking about Grant's process for writing scripts, note-taking, and researching ideas for each episode.

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Show Notes

2:14 - Why everybody loves prime numbers so much and what makes them so special.

4:56 - What was initially so interesting about math for Grant and why he didn't end up going into a more formal researching role.

8:23 - Why Grant is getting increasingly more fed up with math that doesn't even try to be associated to reality.

11:36 - The usefulness of "useless" knowledge and why spending an afternoon solving a math puzzle is so satisfying.

18:42 - What is driving the accelerating progress of the entire field of math.

22:19 - How Gödel's famous theorem attacked the fundamental structure of math and changed the way mathematicians think about it.

27:31 - The unappreciated universality of math and why knowledge and interest in math by the public is higher than ever before.

31:49 - Why Grant believes that attention spans aren't getting shorter and why the evidence is so strong.

35:43 - The importance of the principles of symmetry and creating meaningful names in math.

40:58 - Why Grant believes that distraction is key to creative work.

44:33 - Brand-building and why Grant believes it is important for anybody looking to build trust in their products.

47:40 - What videos are the hardest for Grant to produce and why.

49:31 - Building the intuition of teaching through a non-interactive medium.

54:42 - What was most unexpected to Grant about working in the field of mathematics.

1:00:19 - Where Grant gets his video ideas and how his script-writing differs from video to video.

1:05:31 - How an idea evolves from sketches and drawings into a logical coherent video.

1:07:35 - How college education in math can be improved and why it can be unnecessarily hard for students in that program.

1:11:42 - The possible implications of the collision of mathematics and computing in pure math research.

1:14:32 - The story behind some of David's favorite quotes in Grant's videos.