Queen's University

Ram Murty, mathematician and Indian philosophy scholar

Dr. Ram Murty, seen giving a lecture at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, India, is head of the mathematics department. He also teaches a course in Indian Philosophy.

Ram Murty is a man immersed in numbers, as head of the mathematics department. He is also deeply absorbed in realms beyond logos, or logical discourse, as a scholar in Indian philosophy.

“The conscious mind, the logical mind, is only the tip of the iceberg,” says Dr. Murty, who joined Queen’s in 1996. “The deeper reaches of the mind are far more powerful.”

Several years ago, speaking with philosophy professor Christine Overall, Dr. Murty noted there was no course in Indian philosophy at Queen’s. She asked if he would teach it. He said yes, but hoped Dr. Overall would forget about it. That didn’t happen, and he now teaches – voluntarily – an Indian philosophy course every other year. Out of the course and his lectures, a book emerged. Indian Philosophy: An Introduction will be published by Broadview Press this summer.

Philosophy is the foundation of Dr. Murty’s life – it gives existence meaning. Born in Guntur, India, he was raised on the philosophies and traditions he now teaches at Queen’s. When he was seven, his family moved to Ottawa, where he later studied at Carleton University, receiving a bachelor of science with a minor in philosophy. He left Canada to pursue a PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and became involved in the community surrounding Swami Sarvagatananda, a spiritual leader under the Ramakrishna Order of India and a chaplain for Hindu students at the institute.

In conversation with Dr. Murty, it seems there is little separation between philosophy and math. He speaks of math philosophically and philosophy mathematically. “What is a number?” he says. “The idea of zero as a number – it’s a profound question. Why is nothing a number?”

The continual questioning is what guides him. Learning is never a finite thing, Dr. Murty says. It’s infinite, and this propels his work as a professor. He encourages students to use both sides of the brain: the left, logical side, and the creative, intuitive right side. Just as he has done with numbers and philosophy.

 

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Last updated at 3:58 pm EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
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