Sunday, April 6, 2014

Four From Friday

Friday brought several interesting, varied reads across my computer screen:

1) Scientific American got us started with a little math history lesson, centered around "infinitesimals" coming in and out of favor, and the re-casting of calculus:

2) On the light side, The Guardian offered an excerpt about our response to numbers, from Alex Bellos' newest book, "Alex Through the Looking Glass":

It starts off telling about a man named Jerry Newport, a retired taxi driver with Asperger's Syndrome who has "an extraordinary talent for mental arithmetic." Also, turns out that Jerry's living room includes "a cockatoo, a dove, three parakeets and two cockatiels"… THIS is a man I can relate to! ;-) -- I've had a similar living room in the past!… though I lack Jerry's number talents. Anyway, many of Jerry's unexplained skills interestingly center around prime numbers. (BTW, I touched on the subject of linkage between Asperger's and math ability a bit ago.)
The rest of Bellos' piece deals with various subjective (and seemingly inexplicable) oddities about integers, and our relationships to them.
An interesting, fun read, touching on language and psychology in addition to math.  If the rest of the book is this entertaining, jolly good!

3) A bit more advanced, Adam Kucharski writes a piece for Nautilus on the startling Weierstrass Function, which pre-saged "fractals" -- a fascinating function that is continuous, yet lacks a derivative at any given point (is "smooth" NOwhere). This was contrary to all prior math thought, and "With one bizarre equation, Weierstrass had demonstrated that physical intuition was not a reliable foundation on which to build mathematical theories":

(this interesting extract comes from a longer article Nautilus subscribers can access)

4) Finally, in a fascinating bit of logical legerdemain, Arkady Bolotin has linked the P vs. NP Millennium Problem to quantum mechanics, and in so doing reached conclusions about both. A longstanding puzzle in quantum theory is how to apply equations that work so well at the quantum level to the world we actually live in and experience. Bolotin argues that while Schrodinger's equation has relatively simple solutions at the atomic-level, at the macro-level it becomes NP-hard (essentially unsolvable). Essentially he's killing two birds with one stone: claiming that P ≠ NP (which is what most assume, but have yet to prove) and that the quantum inscrutability of our world is the result of Schrodinger's equation being essentially unsolvable (within reasonable time) at the macro level:

And if you have any energy left after reading all these you can go catch the latest lengthy blather (re: math education) I've put up on MathTango this morning.

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