Posts Tagged ‘Mathematics’
With an eye to the digestive challenges that many readers will likely be facing tomorrow, (R)D will be on holiday hiatus, to resume on Black Friday… In the meantime, a Thanksgiving gift: Mark Twain’s “Hunting the Deceitful Turkey.”
When I was a boy my uncle and his big boys hunted with the rifle, the youngest boy Fred and I with a shotgun—a small single-barrelled shotgun which was properly suited to our size and strength; it was not much heavier than a broom. We carried it turn about, half an hour at a time…
Readers will find links here to download the full story (as a pdf) or to read online at the Library of America’s site… and will realize that the real gift here is the link on that page to subscribe to their wonderful “Story of the Week” list– a free, downloadable short story, like this one, selected each week from the extraordinary trove of treasures in their stock. The perfect post-prandial pleasure!
As we prepare to loosen our belts, we might send safe and satisfied birthday greetings to Jesse Ernest Wilkins, Jr.; he was born on this date in 1923. The youngest ever undergraduate at the University of Chicago when he was admitted at the age of 13, he went on to earn his doctorate there, and thus to become the first African-American PhD in mathematics. He went on to earn both Masters and PhD degrees in mechanical engineering at NYU.
Wilkins was involved in the Manhattan Project during World War II, then developed mathematical models to calculate the amount of gamma radiation absorbed by any given material (a technique of calculating radiative absorption still widely used among researcher in space and nuclear science). He then developed the radiation shielding used against the gamma radiation emitted during electron decay of the Sun and other nuclear sources.
Your correspondent, for one, will be using that shielding in his oven tomorrow.
* Paul Dirac
“Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music.”
- Betrand Russell
As we count our blessings, we might recall that it was on this date in 1869 that the very first issue of Nature was published. Edited by astronomer Sir Norman Lockyer, the inaugural issue included articles on astronomy, plants, moths, paleontology, science teaching in schools, an obituary for Thomas Graham, and meeting notices. Lockyer took the journal’s title from a line by Wordsworth: “To the solid ground of nature trusts the Mind that builds for aye.”
Nature was at its inception part of a movement of interdisciplinary (or perhaps better said, pre-disciplinary journals), unique in drawing on a contributor base composed of progressive, and somewhat controversial scientists like Joseph Dalton Hooker, Herbert Spencer, and John Tyndall– all avid supporters of Darwin and his theory of evolution, a very fashion-forward position at the time. But while most journals have become ever-more specialized, Nature has hewed to its interdisciplinary roots– “a way of creating a sense of community among people who would otherwise be isolated from each other”– and has become pre-eminent: it was ranked the”world’s most cited” scientific publication by the Science Edition of the 2010 Journal Citation Reports.
Dictionary of Numbers is an award-winning Google Chrome extension that tries to make sense of numbers encountered on the web by providing descriptions of those numbers in human terms. Just as a dictionary describes words one doesn’t know in terms one does, so Dictionary of Numbers puts unfamiliar quantities in understandable, recognizable terms… “Because ’8 million people’ means nothing, but ‘population of New York City’ means everything.”
As we graduate from our fingers and toes, we might spare a thought for Jules Henri Poincaré; he died on this date in 1912. A mathematician, theoretical physicist, engineer, and a philosopher of science, Poincaré is considered the “last Universalist” in math– the last mathematician to excel in all fields of the discipline as it existed during his lifetime.
Poincaré was a co-discoverer (with Einstein and Lorentz) of the special theory of relativity; he laid the foundations for the fields of topology and chaos theory; and he had a huge impact on cosmogony. His famous “Conjecture” held that if any loop in a given three-dimensional space can be shrunk to a point, the space is equivalent to a sphere; it remained unsolved until Grigori Perelman completed a proof in 2003.
More than 170 years before Jean-François Champollion had the first real success in translating Egyptian hieroglyphs, the 17th century Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher was convinced he had cracked it. He was very wrong. Daniel Stolzenberg looks at Kircher’s Egyptian Oedipus, a book that has been called “one of the most learned monstrosities of all times” in Public Domain Review.
As we take care not to jump to conclusions, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell; he was born on this date in 1872. A philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic, Russell is probably best remembered for Principia Mathematica (co-authored with Alfred North Whitehead), which attempted to ground mathematics in logic (though his essay “On Denoting” has also been celebrated as a “paradigm of philosophy.” He won the 1950 Nobel Prize in Literature ”in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought.”
As we lick our pencils, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to Immanuel Kant; he was born on this date in 1724. One of the central figures of modern philosophy, Kant is remembered primarily for his efforts to unite reason with experience (e.g., Critique of Pure Reason [Kritik der reinen Vernunft], 1781), and for his work on ethics (e.g., Metaphysics of Morals [Die Metaphysik der Sitten], 1797) and aesthetics (e.g., Critique of Judgment [Kritik der Urteilskraft], 1790). But he made important contributions to mathematics as well: Kant’s argument that mathematical truths are a form of synthetic a priori knowledge was cited by Einstein as an important early influence on his work.
There is … only a single categorical imperative and it is this: Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.
- Chapter 11, Metaphysics of Morals