Jessie Elliott

Jesse Elliott

In the tradition of René Descartes and Sir Isaac Newton, Professor Jesse Elliott views the roles of mathematician and philosopher as advantageously aligned. A Professor of Mathematics and Philosophy Coordinator at CI, he guides students to sharpen quantitative and analytical skills needed to solve the world’s complex problems.

“Both mathematics and philosophy are valuable for increasing one’s analytical skills and aptitude for abstract thought,” he said.

Along with courses in Calculus, Abstract Algebra and Number Theory, Elliott leads analytical and introspective classes that link both disciplines. Students in his Philosophy of Mathematics course learn about infinity, paradoxes and Goedel’s incompleteness theorems, debate whether mathematics is discovered or invented, and question why mathematical knowledge requires proof. In Introduction to Philosophy, his students visit a philosophical, scientific, spiritual, or religious site outside their belief system and write and present their reflections to classmates. He’s also taken students to Italy, Australia, Mexico, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg for interdisciplinary courses that merge subjects like art, science, history, philosophy and math.

Elliott showed an early aptitude for complex math in elementary school, always working several grade levels ahead of classmates. In high school, he tackled college-level math and physics, including linear and abstract algebra and special relativity.

“I knew then then that I wanted to be a mathematics professor,” he said.

While attending MIT’s top-ranked mathematics program as a first-generation undergraduate, he discovered a passion for philosophy.

“I took a philosophy class with a famous math professor (Gian-Carlo Rota) and a math class with a famous philosophy professor (George Boolos), and that inspired me to want to teach and do research in philosophy, too, someday,” he said.

In 2003 he earned his Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley, and was lured to CI by its interdisciplinary mission and the chance to share his expertise in both mathematics and philosophy.

Today, as a Professor of Mathematics and Director of the M.S. Program in Mathematics, he teaches and mentors graduate and undergraduate students, frequently involving them in his research and publishing endeavors. One previous graduate advisee, James McDonough, helped Elliott solve an open problem in mathematics and is now a fellow CI math faculty member.

“Jesse Elliott is a brilliant mathematician and contributes much to the subject,” said McDonough.

As Philosophy Coordinator, Elliott has worked with colleagues to create the philosophy minor and the proposed philosophy major, now under review by CI’s Curriculum Committee.

“I view mathematics as the ‘science of patterns,’ as the universal language of the cosmos, and as the ‘physics of the possible,’” Elliott said. “The universe reveals itself through its patterns, through mathematics. Just like philosophy or deep meditation, a strong grasp of mathematics can provide one with a glimpse into the mind of the cosmos. Just like music, mathematics is profoundly beautiful. And both mathematics and philosophy are absolutely indispensable to science.”