January 12th, 2005

krazy koati

Why, we could never reach the star without you

The seminar seemed like a good idea -- at first. The topic was how different cultures form concepts of mathematical proofs, and the speaker's first point was that the often-repeated story that Greek mathematicians were unique in demanding proofs -- Babylonian, Indian, and Chinese mathematicians settling for algorithms and not worrying about theory -- reflects an Age of Reason backlash against the overly mechanical view of the world, clutching to other cultures as proof that other schools of thought work too. Further, while the axiom-syllogism proof (more talked about than seen, by the way, in mathematics) is a Greek notion, Indian and Chinese mathematicians commented on each algorithm until they had satisfactory explanations for it working. So the proofs are there, just not as Euclid would write; they're narrative proofs (which most people, including mathematicians, understand better).

Unfortunately the talk pretty much ended there, with enormously long sentences offering no hint of direction, and a narrative going nowhere I could identify. It ended early, but then in questions a few of the audience raised the point that Christianity offers absolute truths or falsities -- obviously useful to a deductive-logic proof -- while Buddhism offers the notion something may be true, or false, or be neither, or all sorts of gradients, and therefore ... I have no idea, and neither did the speaker, but they kept asking slight variants for 20 minutes. I think they wanted him to say ``Buddha rocks!''. I think this may have been one of those philosophy seminars I've been warned about. Maybe they were intuitionist proselytizers.

Trivia: 17 is the largest whole number which cannot be written as the sum of exactly three relatively prime numbers. Source: Lure of the Integers, Joe Roberts.

Currently Reading: The Green Millennium, Fritz Leiber. One green kitten may be a worldwide menace ...