## Posts Tagged ‘**Erdos**’

## “Mystery has its own mysteries”*…

Finally, an answer to a question that puzzled Cantor and Hilbert (proprietor of The Infinite Hotel) and challenged Cohen and Gödel…

In a breakthrough that disproves decades of conventional wisdom [and confounds common sense], two mathematicians have shown that two different variants of infinity are actually the same size. The advance touches on one of the most famous and intractable problems in mathematics: whether there exist infinities between the infinite size of the natural numbers and the larger infinite size of the real numbers…

Connecting the sizes of infinities and the complexity of mathematical theories: “Mathematicians Measure Infinities and Find They’re Equal.”

* “Mystery has its own mysteries, and there are gods above gods. We have ours, they have theirs. That is what’s known as infinity.” – Jean Cocteau

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**As we go big,** we might spare a thought for Paul Erdős; he died on this date in 1996. One of the most prolific mathematicians of the 20th century (he published around 1,500 mathematical papers during his lifetime, a figure that remains unsurpassed), he is remembered both for his “social practice” of mathematics (he engaged more than 500 collaborators) and for his eccentric lifestyle (he spent his waking hours virtually entirely on math; he would typically show up at a colleague’s doorstep and announce “my brain is open”, staying long enough to collaborate on a few papers before moving on a few days later).

Erdős’s prolific output with co-authors prompted the creation of the Erdős number, the number of steps in the shortest path between a mathematician and Erdős in terms of co-authorships. Low numbers are a badge of pride– and a usual marker of accomplishment: As of 2016, all Fields Medalists have a finite Erdős number, with values that range between 2 and 6, and a median of 3. Physics Nobelists Einstein and Sheldon Glashow have an Erdős number of 2. Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron can be considered to have an Erdős number of 1 because they both autographed the same baseball (for number theorist Carl Pomerance). Natalie Portman’s undergraduate collaboration with a Harvard professor earned her an Erdős number of 5; Danica McKellar (“Winnie Cooper” in *The Wonder Years*) has an Erdős number of 4, for a mathematics paper coauthored while an undergraduate at UCLA.

## “God made the integers; all the rest is the work of Man”*…

From Alex Bellos: the results of his global online poll to find the world’s favorite number…

The winner? Seven— and it wasn’t even close…

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**As we settle for anything but snake eyes,** we might send symbolic birthday greetings to John Pell; he was born on this date in 1611. An English mathematician of accomplishment, he is perhaps best remembered for having introduced the “division sign”– the “obelus”: a short line with dots above and below– into use in English. It was first used in German by Johann Rahn in 1659 in *Teutsche Algebra*; Pell’s translation brought the symbol to English-speaking mathematicians. But Pell was an important influence on Rahn, and edited his book– so may well have been, many scholars believe, the originator of the symbol for this use. (In any case the symbol wasn’t new to them: the obelus [derived from the word for “roasting spit” in Greek] had already been used to mark passages in writings that were considered dubious, corrupt or spurious…. a use that surely seems only too appropriate to legions of second and third grade math students.)

## “I know numbers are beautiful. If they aren’t beautiful, nothing is”*…

Euler’s identity: Math geeks extol its beauty, even finding in it hints of a mysterious connectedness in the universe. It’s on tank tops and coffee mugs [and tattoos]. Aliens, apparently, carve it into crop circles (in 8-bit binary code). It’s appeared on

The Simpsons. Twice.What’s the deal with Euler’s identity? Basically, it’s an equation about numbers—specifically, those elusive constants π and

e. Both are “transcendental” quantities; in decimal form, their digits unspool into infinity. And both are ubiquitous in scientific laws. But they seem to come from different realms: π (3.14159 …) governs the perfect symmetry and closure of the circle; it’s in planetary orbits, the endless up and down of light waves.e(2.71828 …) is the foundation of exponential growth, that accelerating trajectory of escape inherent to compound interest, nuclear fission, Moore’s law. It’s used to model everything that grows…Now, maybe you’ve never thought of math equations as “beautiful,” but look at that result: It combines the five most fundamental numbers in math—0, 1,

e, i, and π—in a relation of irreducible simplicity. (Even more astonishing if you slog through the proof, which involves infinite sums, factorials, and fractions nested within fractions within fractions like matryoshka dolls.) And remember,eand π are infinitely long decimals with seemingly nothing in common; they’re the ultimate jigsaw puzzle pieces. Yet they fit together perfectly—not to a few places, or a hundred, or a million, but all the way to forever…But the weirdest thing about Euler’s formula—given that it relies on imaginary numbers—is that it’s so immensely useful in the real world. By translating one type of motion into another, it lets engineers convert messy trig problems (you know, sines, secants, and so on) into more tractable algebra—like a wormhole between separate branches of math. It’s the secret sauce in Fourier transforms used to digitize music, and it tames all manner of wavy things in quantum mechanics, electronics, and signal processing; without it, computers might not exist…

More marvelous math at “The Baffling and Beautiful Wormhole Between Branches of Math.”

[TotH to @haarsager]

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**As we wonder if Descartes wasn’t right when he wrote that “everything turns into mathematics,”** we might spare a thought for Persian polymath Omar Khayyam; the mathematician, philosopher, astronomer, epigrammatist, and poet died on this date in 1131. While he’s probably best known to English-speakers as a poet, via Edward FitzGerald’s famous translation of the quatrains that comprise the *Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam*, Omar was one of the major mathematicians and astronomers of the medieval period. He is the author of one of the most important works on algebra written before modern times, the *Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra,* which includes a geometric method for solving cubic equations by intersecting a hyperbola with a circle. His astronomical observations contributed to the reform of the Persian calendar. And he made important contributions to mechanics, geography, mineralogy, music, climatology, and Islamic theology.