Tag Archives | Mathematics

On Wittgenstein’s Skepticism of Sacred Geometry


Pic: PD

“What are the odds?” I said upon discovering an old classmate in the lobby of the very same hotel in St. Thomas where I had just checked in.  “And look, you’re reading Leibniz too!”  My old classmate was carrying a transcript of Leibniz’s letters to Clarke, and I had a copy of his letters to Arnauld in my bag at that very minute.  Just as we were marveling at the incredible coincidence, in walked the professor under whom we had both studied Continental Rationalism — including a good deal of Leibniz — at university!  In his bag was a biography of Wilhelm Gottfried Leibniz.

“This is too much,” I said.  “The odds of the three of us arriving here, in the US Virgin Islands, on St. Thomas, in this hotel lobby, on April 4th at 3:00 pm, all carrying books on Leibniz…the odds are astronomical!  This can’t be a coincidence.  The probability of this event happening is nearly zero.  There is some meaning, some purpose, in this.  Of that we can be sure.”

The other two slapped me on the mouth for being an idiot, because the odds of the three of us all arriving in the US Virgin Islands, specifically St.… Read the rest

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Polynesian Islanders Used Binary System 600 Years Ago

binaryFrom the file of lost mathematics systems of remote cultures, via Scientific American:

Binary arithmetic, the basis of all virtually digital computation today, is usually said to have been invented at the start of the eighteenth century by the German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz. But a study now shows that a kind of binary system was already in use 300 years earlier among the people of the tiny Pacific island of Mangareva in French Polynesia.

The discovery, made by analysing historical records of the now almost wholly assimilated Mangarevan culture and language and reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that some of the advantages of the binary system adduced by Leibniz might create a cognitive motivation for this system to arise spontaneously, even in a society without advanced science and technology.

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Bill Nye, Brian Greene, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Lawrence Krauss on the Limitations of Mathematics

Math lovers and aficionados will find the following discourse both entertaining and informative.

Below you will find the video and partial transcript of Arizona State University’s Origins Project’s Q&A segment from their ‘The Storytelling of Science’ panel discussion, featuring “well-known science educator Bill Nye, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, theoretical physicist Brian Greene, Science Friday’s Ira Flatow, popular science fiction writer Neal Stephenson, executive director of the World Science Festival Tracy Day, and Origins Project director Lawrence Krauss.”

The first question asked of the panel was:

Q: “If you could give us all a one word piece of advice for our own science storytelling, what would it be?”

Bill Nye was the first to reply with, “Algebra, learn algebra.” Neil deGrasse Tyson follows with, ‘Ambition’. Lawrence Krauss with, ‘Passion’. Neal Stephenson with, ‘Empathize’. Richard Dawkins states that since empathize has already been taken, he will choose ‘Poetry’.

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After Brutal Beating, Man’s Field of Vision Fills With Fractals

Quantum-hand-crunchGives “knock some sense into you” a whole new meaning.

Via ABC News:

Working behind the counter at a futon store in Tacoma, Wash., is not the place you would expect to find a man some call a mathematical genius of unprecedented proportions.

Jason Padgett, 41, sees complex mathematical formulas everywhere he looks and turns them into stunning, intricate diagrams he can draw by hand. He’s the only person in the world known to have this incredible skill, which he obtained by sheer accident just a decade ago.

“I’m obsessed with numbers, geometry specifically,” Padgett said. “I literally dream about it. There’s not a moment that I can’t see it, and it just doesn’t turn off.”

Padgett doesn’t have a PhD, a college degree or even a background in math. His talent was born out of a true medical mystery that scientists around the world are still trying to unravel.

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Christian Fundamentalism’s War on Higher Mathematics

384px-Relation1001.svgI’ll be the first to admit that my math skills are rudimentary. I’d go so far as to say they’re borderline non-existent. To quote that famous plastic scholar Barbie, “Math is tough!” If you can do math, especially anything from algebra on up, you’ve got my admiration – maybe even my fearful reverence. You’re like the first caveman who mastered fire to me. You don’t have to worry about me coming to your door with pitchfork in torch in hand. However, the same can’t be said of certain groups of Christian fundamentalists. According to BoingBoing’s Maggy Koerth-Baker, some of these guys are waging war against higher mathematics, particularly something called “set theory”. Check it out:

Some of these folks get very touchy about the idea of infinity. Mark Chu-Carroll is a software engineer at foursquare and a math blogger. Unlike me, he was already aware of the fundamentalist objection to set theory, because he’s actually had people show up in his comment section railing about how the theory is an affront to God.

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We’re All Tripping, All The Time…

Beau Lotto explains in his Ted Talk... ...and Ben Thomas interprets for Huffington Post:
The year was 1943, and the Pentagon had a problem. They'd poured millions of dollars into a new voice encryption system -- dubbed the "X System" -- but no one was certain how secure it was. So the top brass called in Claude Shannon to analyze their code and -- if all went well -- to prove that it was mathematically unbreakable. Shannon was a new breed of mathematician: A specialist in what's known today as information theory. To Shannon and his fellow theorists, information was something separate from the letters, numbers and facts it represented. Instead, it was something more abstract; more mathematical: in a word, it was non-redundancy...
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David Malone’s Dangerous Knowledge

Via WarrenEllis.com:
One of the very interesting people I met at How The Light Gets In was the writer and filmmaker David Malone. In conversation with him and (it was a very weird weekend, okay?) Michael Nyman and the head of cultural affairs at the Mexican embassy to the UK, he’d mentioned that some of his work had been uploaded by other people to the net. Also, that his preferred form, the lyric televisual essay, had gone out of fashion.  As I’ve noted here more than once, proper rhetorical television isn’t really made any more. So I went looking, when I got home.  And I found his DANGEROUS KNOWLEDGE:
In this one-off documentary, David Malone looks at four brilliant mathematicians – Georg Cantor, Ludwig Boltzmann, Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing – whose genius
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Vint Cerf On Alan Turing

Photo: Joseph Birr-Pixton (CC)Vint Cerf was one of the main forces behind the creation of the Internet as we know it today. He is accorded elder statesman status, but is in fact still very active in the tech world (currently Google’s “Chief Internet Evangelist”). On the centenary of the birth of an earlier tech revolutionary, Alan Turing, Cerf writes for the BBC that  the mathematician who broke the Nazis’ Enigma code in World War 2 should be a household name:

I’ve worked in computing, and more specifically computer networking, nearly all my life. It’s an industry in a constant state of innovation, always pushing beyond the limits of current capability.

It is sometimes said that “broadband” is whatever network speed you don’t have, yet!

Things we take for granted today were, not that long ago, huge technological breakthroughs.

Although I’ve been lucky enough in my career to be involved in the development of the internet, I’ve never lost sight of the role played by my predecessors, without whose pioneering labour, so much would not have been accomplished.

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Teenager Beats Riddle That Baffled Issac Newton

Newton By William BlakeNot bad. How about showing Americans kids how dumb they are? Via the Herald Sun:

Shouryya Ray is the first person to work out how to calculate exactly the path of a projectile under gravity and subject to air resistance, The (London) Sunday Times reported.

The Indian-born teen said he solved the problem that had stumped mathematicians for centuries while working on a school project.

Shouryya won a research award for his efforts and has been labeled a genius by the German media, but he put it down to “curiosity and schoolboy naivety.”

“When it was explained to us that the problems had no solutions, I thought to myself, ‘well, there’s no harm in trying,’” he said. Shouryya’s family moved to Germany when he was 12 after his engineer father got a job at a technical college. He said his father instilled in him a “hunger for mathematics” and taught him calculus at the age of six.

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Alan Turing Code Papers Released

Turing PlaqueAlan Turing, perhaps the greatest computer scientist ever, famous for breaking the Germans' Enigma code in World War II, wrote two papers on code breaking that have just been released by Britain's spy center, GCHQ. From BBC News:
Two 70-year-old papers by Alan Turing on the theory of code breaking have been released by the government's communications headquarters, GCHQ. It is believed Turing wrote the papers while at Bletchley Park working on breaking German Enigma codes. A GCHQ mathematician said the fact that the contents had been restricted "shows what a tremendous importance it has in the foundations of our subject". It comes amid celebrations to mark the centenary of Turing's birth. The two papers are now available to view at the National Archives at Kew, west London. GCHQ was able to approximately date the papers because in one example Turing had made reference to Hitler's age.
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