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## Pure Math, Pure Joy315

e271828 writes "The New York Times is carrying a nice little piece entitled Pure Math, Pure Joy about the beauty and applicability of pure math as carried out at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute. There is an accompanying slideshow of pictures of mathematicians in action; I particularly loved the picture titled Waging Mental Battle with a Proof."
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## Pure Math, Pure Joy

• #### Ah yes... (Score:5, Funny)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @02:36PM (#6325857)
The joy of pure math. Second only to the joy of pure self-mutilation.
• #### Re:Ah yes... (Score:3, Funny)

The joy of pure math. Second only to the joy of pure self-mutilation.

Interesting, can you write down a proof for that?
• #### What? (Score:2, Funny)

by Anonymous Coward
What? I don't understand. No registration? OMG.
• #### Visualizing the solution... (Score:4, Interesting)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @02:37PM (#6325865) Homepage Journal

Very cool article! I liked the statement: "Nobody knows when some abstruse bit of math will float off a blackboard at a place like this and become a..." It reminded me of the radiant primes observation [radiantprimes.com]

I imagine it will be a method similar to this that helps us discover the first billion digit prime number, not some brute-force method. Speaking of prime numbers & slightly off-topic, on 5/31/2003 there was an eclipse (solar) over Norway from 4:43AM to 6:41AM. 5, 31, 2003, 443 & 641 are all prime...

• #### Re:Visualizing the solution... (Score:5, Funny)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @03:12PM (#6326041)
Speaking of prime numbers & slightly off-topic, on 5/31/2003 there was an eclipse (solar) over Norway from 4:43AM to 6:41AM. 5, 31, 2003, 443 & 641 are all prime...

Heh heh... If you noticed that then you would've failed this too. A while back my girlfriend showed me a question from a Mensa test that clued me in to what that organization is all about:

Which is the odd one out: (a) 4 (b) 15 (c) 9 (d) 12 (e) 5 (f) 8 (g) 30 (h) 18 (i) 24 (j) 10

Well, anyone who knows a prime from a hole in the ground would choose (e), but the correct answer was (f), 8. And why? Because it is the only "symmetrical" number, as printed on the page!

• #### Re:Visualizing the solution... (Score:2)

8 is the only cube too, silly /.er

10 is semetrical vertically, pretty much.
• #### Re:Visualizing the solution... (Score:2, Interesting)

by Anonymous Coward
So when there are two correct answers, one involving some sort of mastery of basic math, and a subtle answer involving typography, Mensa chooses the latter? That seems very wrong to me.
• #### Re:Visualizing the solution... (Score:5, Insightful)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @03:44PM (#6326202) Journal

What is the next in the sequence of:
1,2,4,...

My answer was . The sequence is the largest number of separate enclosed areas it is possible to make by adding a single straight line to a circle. (i.e. 1 for no lines, 2 for one line, 4 for two lines)

I hate this kind of question, because it is possible to design a sequence such that any number comes next, so any test which includes the possibility of incorrect answers is just plain wrong. Of course you should have to justify your answer, but since the IQ tests are multiple choice...

• #### Re:Visualizing the solution... (Score:3, Funny)

Sounds like you've been working in Domino's longer than you've been working in binary. :)
• #### Re:Visualizing the solution... (Score:2, Insightful)

It is correct that any number can come next in that sequence or any other. This is called the Matiyasevich-Robinson theorem.
• #### 0, 1, 2, ? (Score:4, Interesting)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @05:29PM (#6326675) Homepage
One of my favourites: 0, 1, 2, ?

Obviously there are many solutions. Extra points for the largest possible number (with a decent explanation)

0 -> 0 = 0
1 -> 1 ! = 1
2 -> 2 ! ! = 2
3 -> 3 ! ! ! = 6 ! ! = 720 ! approx. 2.6 E+1746

Any higher ??

• #### Dumb question to "test" someone. (Score:5, Insightful)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @03:42PM (#6326193) Journal
How arbitrary is that?

How is e) (prime) less valid than the solution?

How about g) (The only number greater than 29)?
How about a) because its the "bad luck" number in Chinese culture (Too bad you missed out on that one, "white devil")?
How about j) (Because today is Sunday and I feel like its the correct answer)?

• #### Re: Dumb question to "test" someone. (Score:2)

There are other, more plausible answers, too.

For example: 4 is the only one which takes that number of letters when written in English. 30 is the only who that's the number of days in a month. And so on.

(Presumably, they were talking about horizontal or rotational symmetry? Otherwise, depending on the font, '30', '10', and '18' might also qualify. In fact, in some fonts, '8' wouldn't qualify for rotational symmetry...)

• #### (j) is correct! (Score:4, Funny)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @08:53PM (#6327651) Homepage

It is clearly the only answer written in binary.

• #### Mensa is right based on Ockhams razor (Score:3, Insightful)

Which is the odd one out: (a) 4 (b) 15 (c) 9 (d) 12 (e) 5 (f) 8 (g) 30 (h) 18 (i) 24 (j) 10

Well, anyone who knows a prime from a hole in the ground would choose (e), but the correct answer was (f), 8. And why? Because it is the only "symmetrical" number, as printed on the page!

Well, according to Ockhams razor I would argue that Mensa is right. The concept of symmetry is much simpler than the concept of prime numbers.

Tor
• #### Re:Mensa is right based on Ockhams razor (Score:3, Insightful)

Well, according to Ockhams razor I would argue that Mensa is right. The concept of symmetry is much simpler than the concept of prime numbers.

Oh, I wouldn't argue that they were wrong; in fact I think that they set up the question this way deliberately to smack mathematically literate people who see numbers and assume that it's about number theory. They're measuring some function of intelligence minus education.

• #### Re:Mensa is right based on Ockhams razor (Score:4, Insightful)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @05:28PM (#6326671)
If they are deliberately creating questions that have a "correct but not the answer we were looking for" solution, then they are knowingly creating poor tests of intelligence. What they are really looking for then is "people who think like we do" not "very intelligent people".

It's sort of like the old biased college aptitude tests and the cup/saucer question where kids from well off white families would know that cup and saucer go together, but poor minority kids had probably never encountered a saucer in their life.
• #### Re:Mensa is right based on Ockhams razor (Score:2)

There was once a question on the Stanford-Binet IQ test (until the early 60s, I think) that showed a drawing of a little pony-tailed white girl next to a girl with African features (broader nose, fuller lips) and asked, "Which is prettier?"
• #### Re:Mensa is right based on Ockhams razor (Score:2)

Well, according to Ockhams razor I would argue that Mensa is right. The concept of symmetry is much simpler than the concept of prime numbers.

That really isn't fair because the question has taken shapes which we recognize as symbols representing an abstract concept and changed their meaning into "simple shapes". It would be natural for someone to look for some unique fundamental property about one of these numbers that is not shared with the others. In this case the people writing the test should have
• #### Re:Mensa is right based on Ockhams razor (Score:2)

That really isn't fair because the question has taken shapes which we recognize as symbols representing an abstract concept and changed their meaning into "simple shapes".

Well, you would like to make the assumption that the 8 should be treated not as a symbol on the page, but as an abstraction for a numeric quantity. A reasonable assumption, perhaps, - certainly one that most would make.

But the whole point with this question type is that the answer you get depend very much on what assumptions you mak
• #### Re:Mensa is right based on Ockhams razor (Score:4, Interesting)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @05:54PM (#6326795)
But the whole point with this question type is that the answer you get depend very much on what assumptions you make.

The question should be unambiguous, otherwise you are testing to see if people "think like you". If you call it an intelligence test then you must be the definition of intelligence. The question should have opened by stating that these symbols should not be interpretted as representing mathematical numbers.

The Mensa/ Ockham's razor based approach is to find the solution which makes the fewest possible assumptions.

I think you are misusing Ockham's razor. Ockham said entitites should not contain any uneccesary multiplications. Theorizing that one number is unique because it is prime and the others are not does not contain any unecessary assumptions as primality is a basic feature of certain numbers that is true of them regardless of the system used to express them.
• #### Re:Visualizing the solution... (Score:3, Interesting)

As someone who used to find it fun to grab Mensa intelligence tests and search for "alternate correct answers" or "arguably ambiguous questions" I can assure you this sort of thing happens all the time... Take a question from their website sample test for example:

Which word of four letters can be added to the front of the following words to create other English words?

CARD BOX CODE BAG HASTE

Well, "HASTE" pretty much gives the answer away. But wait, what is a postbox, postcode or postbag? I could make a
• #### Re:Visualizing the solution... (Score:2)

Well, anyone who knows a prime from a hole in the ground would choose (e), but the correct answer was (f), 8. And why? Because it is the only "symmetrical" number, as printed on the page!

And even worse that answer isn't right either. Even assuming that the 8 was type faced nicely, it still has vertical and horizontal reflection symmetry and rotational symmetry order 2. 10 has horizontal reflection symmetry so it is all just a crock

• #### Re:Visualizing the solution... (Score:2)

No no, it should have been (j) because it is the only one in BINARY! *Sheesh*!
• #### Waging mental battle with a proof (Score:4, Funny)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @02:38PM (#6325872) Homepage
What this picture doesn't show is the analogue clock just above the blackboard.. they aren't thinking.. just clock-watching !
• #### Re: Waging mental battle with a proof (Score:2)

You're probably right - I'm sure more real maths is done by writing on blackboards, paper, or whatever, than by sitting and staring.

Not that pure thinking isn't import to, of course. It's probably like coding: the actual coding is done at a keyboard, even if the important ideas come elsewhere.

• #### Re:Waging mental battle with a proof (Score:3, Insightful)

So, this is the deal with science and making it attractive to folks, so they see the importance of it. How do you impart the feeling of accomplishment and how efforts of pure thought impact the world?

I thought this photo essay did an admirable job of conveying what thinking for a living is like, yet how does one make this approachable to the general population? I had a conversation with a film director once sitting in an airport (forget his name), but he was asking me what it was like to be a scientist a
• #### Is this really true? (Score:4, Interesting)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @02:40PM (#6325879) Homepage
But the "unreasonable effectiveness" of mathematics in explaining the world, as the physicist Eugene Wigner once put it, is a minor motivation at best for those immersed in the field. Most mathematicians say they are in it for the math itself, for the delirious quest for patterns, the thrill of the detective chase and the lure of beautiful answers.

I sure hope this isn't really true. If mathematicans aren't really interested in helping understand the world, why should society fund them? I certainly know that a major motivation for my career in science is that understanding the world through science will help people, cure diseases, etc.
• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:5, Insightful)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @02:45PM (#6325921)
I think that Mathematicians largely arent the philanthropists that scientists are.

However, seeing as how every science consists largely of mathematical models, the ends justify the means, so to speak.

In other words, while a mathematician isnt looking for a way to make a longer lasting lightbulb, his or her ideas eventually work their way into science and engineering applications, even if it takes decades to happen.
• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:5, Insightful)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @03:08PM (#6326019) Journal
For the most part, we're in it because we want to know. Maybe you think that's a selfish reason, and maybe it is, but when we discover something we immediately share it with the world. The enduring gifts of mathematics are that it extends the boundaries of what is possible with current technology, while presenting us with direction for the future.
• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:2, Insightful)

I think that Mathematicians largely arent the philanthropists that scientists are.

Thus mathematicians aren't scientists.
• #### What about Dr. Evil? (Score:5, Funny)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @04:11PM (#6326322)
You ever hear of an evil or mad Mathematician? Nope, only evil or mad scientists.While they may not be philanthropists, they are not super weapon packing misanthropes. Oh well, back to the lab...
• #### Re:What about Dr. Evil? (Score:2)

John Forbes Nash Jr. was mad. Theodore Kaczynski is evil. Both are/were mathematicians. The point is that mathematicians are not usually allowed into labs to give physical form to what is in their heads.
• #### Re:What about Dr. Evil? (Score:4, Funny)

<ted@fc.rit.POLLOCKedu minus painter> on Sunday June 29, 2003 @07:27PM (#6327267) Homepage
Ha, you laugh now, but wait until Wile's proof of Fermat's Last Theorem becomes self-aware. THEN who's laughing?

;-)
• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:3, Interesting)

Eventually, the math turns out to be useful for something. I doubt that knowing a 100-digit prime number would have been any use whatsoever a hundred years ago, but these days I don't even need to tell you how useful they are.

So what if the mathematicians work primarily because they enjoy math? So what if the practical applications that come of it are just a side effect? We still get those benifits; does it really matter that those benifits weren't the primary purpose of doing the work?
• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:3, Interesting)

So what if the mathematicians work primarily because they enjoy math? So what if the practical applications that come of it are just a side effect? We still get those benifits; does it really matter that those benifits weren't the primary purpose of doing the work?

Well, I guess I'm somewhat annoyed by the way Hollywood likes to present scientists -- as people similar to the way the article described mathematicans -- that is people that just like puzzles, not worrying about the consequences, even if it m
• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:3, Interesting)

This isn't restricted to mathematicians. There are people working in every field who are motivated by things other than furthering society or understanding the world. Money, of course, is the primary one, but there are certainly others.
• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:5, Insightful)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @02:46PM (#6325929) Homepage
Mathematicians do it for the beauty. Society funds them because what is beautiful to a mathematician often turns out to be useful in many other ways. The NSF is paying me to do math research this summer, and honestly I don't care if what I'm doing has any relevance to anything -- I'm just doing it because what I'm studying is really cool and beautiful. But it may turn out that something I find is useful for something else that I never even thought of. This is what happened in large part with number theory -- many of the underlying results were discovered i nthe 1800's and early 1900's, and only later turned out to be useful in cryptography. You can't predict what will be useful and what won't.
• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:2)

Mathematicians do it for the beauty.

That sounds like one of those cheezy bumper sitckers about how different professions have sex.

-
• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:3, Insightful)

If mathematicans aren't really interested in helping understand the world, why should society fund them?

Because they're able to create beauty, like artists and writers and musicians do. Not all human activity should be measured with money, even if money is needed to make it happen

• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:3, Interesting)

Because they're able to create beauty, like artists and writers and musicians do.

This is a poor analogy. Artists, writers and musicians put their art works in places that the general public can find them. Society would never pay to create "beauty" that is impenetrable to almost anyone who does not spend full time in the field. Even "modern art" is shown in museums that millions of people go to every years. The better argument in defense of mathematics is its utility. I'm glad that mathematicians find be

• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:2)

You're welcome not to pay for it of course. I didn't intend an analogy, I honestly think there are some things worth doing for the hell of it, not because they are useful.

PS Excuse me if this sounds a bit stroppy, but you really should avoid the scare quotes. Nasty.

• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:4, Interesting)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @04:20PM (#6326371) Homepage Journal
thats bollocks, artists are a million times more arrogant about their work than mathematicians. mathematicians are just dying for people to want to look at what they do... i'd give an arm and a leg to be able to properly explain to people what it is that i do, but i cant without them first understanding basic differential geometry and group theory. its like expecting an american person to understand a japanese poem without ever learning japanese. its a different language and character set.

artists are the most backstabbing bastards on the planet when it comes to enjoying each others work, and if you dont know who is "so cool" to be into this week, they will reject your conversation at a blink of an eye. try talking to a real artist about di vinci or the turner prize (or basically anyone/thing who we as the public are subjected to), and get nothing but "you are sooo not cool" looks form them. then try talking to a mathematician about euclid and try to pry yourself out of the conversation! artists disassociate themselves from society by choice, mathematicians are rejected and want back.

btw, check out arxiv.org; every math/physics release in the last 10 years has been put there free for anyone to look at; last gallery i went to, i had to pay £5 at the door.

• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:2)

oh, but you are right smallpaul, grandparent really did pick a shitty analogy ;-)

(sorry for sounding rude then, me is a bit bitter against artists, and since you still call the stuff in galeries "modern art", im guessing you've never came across a real artist... you dont want to!)

• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:5, Insightful)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @02:52PM (#6325953) Homepage
If mathematicans aren't really interested in helping understand the world, why should society fund them?

These are two separate things. Many people are attracted to the natural sciences, and even engineering disciplines, not because of a desire to improve the world, but because they find pleasure and abstract beauty in those fields. Yet undeniably work in those areas can lead to benefits for "society", and therefore people doing research in those areas are funded, even if their personal reasons for doing the work have nothing to do with those benefits. Likewise with mathematics, many ideas thought of as purely abstract and disconnected from practical application have turned out, later on, to be useful tools in understanding various real-world phenomena.

It is totally unscientific and ultimately counter-productive to close off areas of inquiry because at the time they are undertaken no one can know exactly what the consequences will be. And ultimately the motivations of the people involved are irrelevant; we know based on history that there could turn out to be uses for it in the future, even if neither "we" (the society making the decision to support the research), nor those doing the research, can see any at this time, and this potentiality alone should justify providing support.
• #### To put it another way (Score:4, Insightful)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @03:10PM (#6326031) Homepage
"Being interested in helping the world" is not the same thing as "helping the world". An ox is not interested in helping plow the farmer's field, but the farmer still feeds it.
• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:5, Insightful)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @02:53PM (#6325957) Journal
I sure hope this isn't really true. If mathematicans aren't really interested in helping understand the world, why should society fund them? I certainly know that a major motivation for my career in science is that understanding the world through science will help people, cure diseases, etc.

Guess what? It gets worse.. it's not only the mathematicians, but just about anyone and everyone involved in fundamental research.

I know I am.. I do theoretical chemistry.. and although I'd love to see something useful come out of what I do, I cannot see any immediate uses for my work.

The point is: It's the foundation research, the fundamentals, that lead to the big, *big* innovations. Although it might not seem useful at the time, it may (or may not) turn out to be very very important in the future. However, by it's nature, we can't know which research is going to pay off in practical terms.

Einsteins work on stimulated emission probably didn't look very useful back in 1910 either, but it lead to the devlopment of the laser, which noone could've predicted at that time.

That's why we need to fund this stuff.
• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:2, Insightful)

by Anonymous Coward
"Einsteins work on stimulated emission probably didn't look very useful back in 1910 either, but it lead to the devlopment of the laser, which noone could've predicted at that time.

That's why we need to fund this stuff."

Its a good point; even if you believe that mathematics needs to yield real world applications in order to be justified, it would be short cited to restrict research to topics with anticipated applications.

However, I think research in mathematics should be encouraged for more idealogical
• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:3, Insightful)

For the sheer beauty of it.

Asking why you should fund mathematics is asking why you should fund art. Who ever got cured by art?

I certainly know that a major motivation for my career in science is the beauty of it.
It's like the sunset outside my window, it's like Dido's new single emerging from my speakers. Today I spent studying for my thermodynamics exam and even the simple mathematics used therein is beautiful. Wednesday is my Quantum Mechanics exam and if it weren't for the beauty of the mathematics of
• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:2)

Silly me. I thought the quest for patterns in and of itself helped one understand the world.
• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:3, Insightful)

If mathematicans aren't really interested in helping understand the world, why should society fund them?

i am a PhD student in maths... and obviously i will disagree with you. but i have a reason... we may not WANT to change/understand the world; but it happens!!!

surprise surprise, but the maths we create is used by physicists (about a 50->100 year time lag), which in turn is applied and picked up by engineers/chemists/biologists (another 10->50 year lag) which ends up being some new device or revolut

• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:2)

surprise surprise, but the maths we create is used by physicists (about a 50->100 year time lag), which in turn is applied and picked up by engineers/chemists/biologists (another 10->50 year lag) which ends up being some new device or revolution for society to play with. you kill off maths, you kill off science as a whole.

Well, math is important, but some engineers/chemists/biologists aren't exactly mathematically illiterate you know...

parent is a troll

No, it's just that I don't dig that whole
• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:2)

Well, math is important, but some engineers/chemists/biologists aren't exactly mathematically illiterate you know...

believe me, pure math is a whole different ball game to the kind of maths the applied world uses. i do mathematical physics, and even our way of lookign at, say, group theory and topology is COMPLETELY different to the way the purists talk about it. ive seen applied group theory and even IT is totally different to the way we look at it. there are many MANY levels of translators, and i still

• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:2, Informative)

"the beauty of this is that it is absolutely useless to anybody"

You're screwin' up the causal relationships again.

Pure math isn't a thing of beauty because discoveries yielded by it may have no *immediate* practicable value; nor is it a thing of beauty because it may be sourced in something other than a desire to solve an immediate problem.

It's a thing of beauty because it has produced fascinating finds with respect to the relationships between various prime numbers and relatively prime numbers (E
• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:2)

But the "unreasonable effectiveness" of fast food chains in feeding the hungry, as the clown Ronald McDonalds once put it, is a minor motivation at best for those immersed in the field. Most employees say they are in it for the money itself, for the delirious quest for salary, the thrill of the paycheck and the lure of beautiful green backs.

Does that mean we should fire everyone working for McDonalds and start looking for people who are really interested in how hungry their next client is and what is his
• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:2)

In some cases, it is a question about long-range versus really long-range thinking and the specialization needed to get to the frontiers of research. As pointed out elsewhere, number theory is a great example. A great deal of mathematical research from the 18th century continuing up until now is focued on prime number distribution, generation and detection. For centuries, people said- What good are prime numbers? Physical measurements such as length have no difference if they are prime or not, so why wo
• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:2)

"a major motivation for my career in science is that understanding the world through science will help people"

Bah, opportunist...

Kidding ;)
• #### Re:Is this really true? (Score:2)

If mathematicans aren't really interested in helping understand the world, why should society fund them?

Smells like a troll, but I answer: Mathematicians produce new ways to model things. Mathematical methods and models have proven to be useful in almost all sciences. What today seems like pure "useless" math may well tomorrow find an application in some totally unexpected ways. Where would engineering be without geometry? Physics without calculus?

Even when math fails to find a solution to some "total

• #### That's the nice thing about math (Score:2, Insightful)

It doesn't actually have to be useful for anything now; in the academic setting you can research from obscure branch of mathematics just because you find it interesting.
• #### Fish (Score:4, Funny)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @02:44PM (#6325917) Homepage Journal
I like the picture where someone is drawing a fish [nytimes.com] on the blackboard while others are doing math.

Who knew that I had a future in advance mathematics when I was doodling in my math notebook during class? : )

They took the pic just as he was about to draw the eye...
• #### terrible journalism (Score:3, Insightful)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @02:46PM (#6325931)
could someone please explain the point of this article ? like most nytimes science article it seems to have zero content. it would be nice if for a change they explained something about mathematics
• #### Re:terrible journalism (Score:2)

Pure math is math unsullied by notions of practicality.
• #### Re:terrible journalism (Score:2)

Pure math is math unsullied by notions of practicality.

But it does have a tendency to find application in all sorts of fields and become "dirty". Does it make the article wrong?

• #### Slahsdot reproduces NYT in it's entirety. (Score:4, Insightful)

<spam@[ ]p.org ['hcc' in gap]> on Sunday June 29, 2003 @02:57PM (#6325973) Homepage Journal
OK, not in it's entirety, and not it is a serious problem, but it would be nice if the editors could make sure that each Sunday, we don't see so many postings from a single news source. Maybe some sort of summary each Sunday on interesting stories in the NYT Sunday Edition.

Pure Math, Pure Joy [slashdot.org]
Harry Potter and the Entertainment Industry [slashdot.org]
• #### Re:Slahsdot reproduces NYT in it's entirety. (Score:2, Funny)

Slashdot: News for Nerds. Stuff that matters. NYTimes.com mirror.
• #### a recent experience with matrices (Score:4, Insightful)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @03:02PM (#6325993)
I'd never studied linear algebra until recently when I had to learn just enough to work through the inverse kinematics of a robot arm. Actually, I never really got along with Mathematics very well anyway. But looking at how matrices can solve all kinds of problems just by drawing zig-zags through rows and columns of numbers made me wonder whether the problems they model or the problems themselves came first. As I was learning the little bit of this math that I did, it started to seem to me that the Math has an independent existence, and a somewhat mysterious set of relationships of correlations and causalities connected to but not dependant on physical nature.
• #### One of life's simple pleasures (Score:4, Interesting)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @03:13PM (#6326048) Homepage Journal
Reading this article reminded me off all the math courses I have taken from primay school through university. I can remember feeling frustrated while dueling with especially hard problems, but the satisfaction of solving them quickly made me forget the pain.

This article also reminded me of a good book (story wise, not much math) that a lot of you have probably read. It's called Fermat's Enigma [amazon.com]. If you haven't read it you should. It's a really good book and an easy read. I might even make you want to read a real math book again ;)

• #### I also love the last picture.... (Score:3, Funny)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @03:27PM (#6326118)
i.e. this one [nytimes.com].

Look how seriously the guy on the right side is watching a fish being drawn...

• #### You can trust the NYT (Score:3, Informative)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @03:28PM (#6326122)

I work in the maths department of a University, and yes.. it's very much like this. We sit around all day in small groups, staring at blackboards, "battling with proofs". Just like in that wonderful movie with the violent australian, "A Beautiful Mind".

No.

• #### Re:You can trust the NYT (Score:5, Funny)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @05:16PM (#6326612) Homepage
Yep and ofcourse everybody knows that mathematicians do it smoothly and continuously or discretely in groups and in fields. Interesting lifestyle :P
• #### Re:You can trust the NYT (Score:3, Insightful)

I work in the maths department of a University, and yes.. it's very much like this. We sit around all day in small groups, staring at blackboards, "battling with proofs". Just like in that wonderful movie with the violent australian, "A Beautiful Mind".

No.

I'm a computer scientist who does a bit of theory. By far the very best, most enjoyable and most rewarding thing I've done as a graduate student is work on proofs. Usually in small groups, often on a blackboard (although I prefer having colors so

• #### Coffee into theorems (Score:5, Interesting)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @03:29PM (#6326127)
Blockquoth the article:
A mathematician, the Hungarian lover of numbers Paul Erdos once said, is a device for converting coffee into theorems.

Erdos himself was a device for converting speed into theorems. Ironically he lived to be 83 years old, prolifically creating new math until the very end.

Like all of Erdos's friends, Graham was concerned about his drug-taking. In 1979, Graham bet Erdos \$500 that he couldn't stop taking amphetamines for a month. Erdos accepted the challenge, and went cold turkey for thirty days. After Graham paid up--and wrote the \$500 off as a business expense--Erdos said, "You've showed me I'm not an addict. But I didn't get any work done. I'd get up in the morning and stare at a blank piece of paper. I'd have no ideas, just like an ordinary person. You've set mathematics back a month." He promptly resumed taking pills, and mathematics was the better for it. - Paul Hoffman,
The Man Who Loved Only Numbers

My guess is that more mathematicians use amphetamines than is commonly acknowledged. This is how some older mathematicians try to keep their "edge".

BTW have you computed your Erdos Number [oakland.edu]?

• #### Re:Coffee into theorems (OT) (Score:2)

Ironically he lived to be 83 years old

And why exactly is this ironic [slashdot.org] ?

• #### Re:Coffee into theorems (OT) (Score:2)

Ironically he lived to be 83 years old And why exactly is this ironic?

Irony is a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.

• #### How about RSA. (Score:3, Interesting)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @03:32PM (#6326146)
RSA turned out to be a combination of different parts of number theory that turned out to change our world. Who would have thought that this [wolfram.com] and this [wolfram.com] would turn into something this amazing. Don't let anyone dismiss pure math...
• #### Are the spooks running out of mathematicians?! (Score:4, Funny)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @03:56PM (#6326258)
Why else would a major newspaper have a piece that describes maths in a positive light?
• #### Math is cool now? (Score:3, Funny)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @04:13PM (#6326334) Homepage Journal
The sweat glistened on his brow as he bravely hammered away at the keyboard - it was a life or death situation, Travolta's character had set the good-looking well-built computer geek an impossible challenge - factorize a large prime number while receiving a blow-job from a beautiful woman, all within sixty seconds...

...nope, I guess if John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, and Halle Berry can't make hacking sound exciting, then a few photos of geeks staring at blackboards are unlikely to make mathematicians the new sex-symbols either.

• #### misery loves company (Score:3, Informative)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @04:29PM (#6326405) Journal
So, I just wanted to poke my head in here and note that MSRI (where the pictures are taken) is pronounced "misery" by the maths community.

My (insert close relative here) does minimal surfaces and hangs out with some of these guys. They look far too neatly dressed in the pictures. Anyway, for a good time, you might want to take a look at some of the galleries of images that these crazy minimal surfaces guys do. I remember about ten years ago, one of my (insert close relative)'s colleagues sold a few images to the Grateful Dead for their concerts.

http://www.msri.org/publications/sgp/jim/images/ [msri.org]
http://www.gang.umass.edu/ [umass.edu]
There is another site out at Minnesota but I'm too lazy to look for it today.

• #### Pure Math (Score:3, Insightful)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @04:54PM (#6326511) Journal
I'm a second year college student of pure math. I just wanted to tell all you non-believers taht its true. There is something amazingly beautiful in pure math. And in the way it is almost "above" reality. Math is applied philosophy. And if you've ever tried tackling a hard philosophical problem you know what it's like trying to understand a prinicipal in math...
• #### Euclid alone has looked on beauty bare (Score:4, Insightful)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @06:42PM (#6327050) Homepage
Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare.
Let all who prate of Beauty hold their peace,
And lay them prone upon the earth and cease
To ponder on themselves, the while they stare
At nothing, intricately drawn nowhere
In shapes of shifting lineage; let geese
Gabble and hiss, but heroes seek release
From dusty bondage into luminous air.
O blinding hour, O holy, terrible day,
When first the shaft into his vision shone
Of light anatomized! Euclid alone
Has looked on Beauty bare. Fortunate they
Who, though once only and then but far away,
Have heard her massive sandal set on stone.

--Edna St. Vincent Millay

• #### Nobody takes notes like those!! (Score:3, Funny)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @07:02PM (#6327144)
In photo 3 of the slideshow. What is he - an honors calligraphy student taking an elective Math course. I can't be that neat when writing greeting cards, let alone taking notes in class.
• #### Funny... (Score:3, Informative)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @08:14PM (#6327490)
The title of the article is "Pure Math, Pure Joy" and it's about MSRI. While it is a phenomenal place, it is no picnic for young mathematicians for sure and is often referred to as "misery", as in "yeah, I spent a year in misery (MSRI)".

• #### Mathturbation (Score:3, Funny)

on Sunday June 29, 2003 @09:03PM (#6327707) Homepage Journal
Pure math has been described by one friend of mine as "mathturbation", while another observed that the entire field of computer science has a severe case of "Math Envy". I'm more down with the later opinion.

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