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Posts tagged mathematics

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Q: Why?

Mathematician: From time to time, people like asking us questions such as “Why?”, while steadfastly refusing to explain what the heck they are talking about. The best example of this was a naked guy who approached our “Ask a Mathematician / Ask a Physicist” booth at Burning Man. In an attempt to respect everyone’s right to not explain themselves, we’ll make a series of guesses about what those folks might be trying to get at, and briefly respond to each of these possible questions.


1. “Why do we exist?”

Mathematician: We exist because our ancestors were at least slightly better at passing down their genetic material than other people. If the environment of earth happened to be just a tad bit different, then other genes besides our own would have been favored, and we would not be here today. If the environment had been a little more different still, then not only would we not be here, but the human species would not even be here. Some other creatures (possibly of great intelligence) would now be romping around this planet. In conclusion, we exist because the process of evolution works, because our planet happened to have the right conditions for evolution to begin, and because conditions changed over time such that human genes (and more specifically, our ancestor’s genes) happened to be favored for survival. We all got very, very lucky.

Physicist: If the many-worlds hypothesis holds (it totally does), then everything that’s possible happens in some version of the universe.  If you can ask the question “Why do we exist?”, then you’ve already restricted your attention to the (possibly very small) set of universes where intelligent life exists.  This argument is called the “anthropic principle“.  So the reason we exist is because there is at least some vanishingly small chance that we could.

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Filed under physics mathematics universe anthropic principle existence aliens life nature

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Addition of fractions and likewise subtraction
Requires that first they all have like bases
Which by reduction is brought to perfection
And being once done as ought in like cases,
Then add or subtract their tops and no more
Subscribing the base made common before.
Thomas Hylle, The Art of Vulgar Arithmetic, both Integers and Fractions (1600)

Filed under mathematics fractions poems Thomas Hylle

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Autistic boy,12, with higher IQ than Einstein develops his own theory of relativity

By Daily Mail Reporter

A 12-year-old child prodigy has astounded university professors after grappling with some of the most advanced concepts in mathematics.

Jacob Barnett has an IQ of 170 - higher than Albert Einstein - and is now so far advanced in his Indiana university studies that professors are lining him up for a PHD research role.

The boy wonder, who taught himself calculus, algebra, geometry and trigonometry in a week, is now tutoring fellow college classmates after hours.

And now Jake has embarked on his most ambitious project yet - his own ‘expanded version of Einstein’s theory of relativity’.

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Filed under Albert Einstein relativity mathematics physics astrophysics genius Jacob Barnett

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… in the human body the central point is naturally the navel. For if a man be placed on his back, with his hands and feet extended, and a pair of compasses centered at his navel, the fingers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circumference of a circle described therefrom. And just as the human body yields a circular outline, so too a square figure may be found from it. For if we measure the distance from the soles of the feet to the top of the head, and then apply that measure to the outstretched arms, the breadth will be found to be the same as the height, as in the case of plane surfaces which are perfectly square.
Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (The Golden Ratio, Mario Livio)

… in the human body the central point is naturally the navel. For if a man be placed on his back, with his hands and feet extended, and a pair of compasses centered at his navel, the fingers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circumference of a circle described therefrom. And just as the human body yields a circular outline, so too a square figure may be found from it. For if we measure the distance from the soles of the feet to the top of the head, and then apply that measure to the outstretched arms, the breadth will be found to be the same as the height, as in the case of plane surfaces which are perfectly square.

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (The Golden Ratio, Mario Livio)

Filed under Vitruvian Man Leonardo da Vinci mathematics art Marcus Vitruvius Pollio