Sunday, February 03, 2008

Apropos mathematicians :)

Efficiency test.

Task: Putting up a simple fence.

Participants: An engeneer, a physicist, a mathematician.

At their disposal: four stakes, wire.

Problem: Who would need the least material quantity?

The engineer would have a short look, drive the four stakes successively into the ground, twist wire around the square and - Bob's your uncle.

The physicist would ponder two minutes, drive three stakes into the ground, twist wire around the triangle and - Bob's your uncle.

The mathematician would see about the material given at his disposal - deliberate what to do - think - think twice - cogitate - consider and reconsider - contemplate - reason and reflect.

After four hours out of the blue he'd enthusiastically wrap the wire around his body and ... define himself outside.'


And what did Einstein say?
'As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain they do not refer to reality.'


  1. Einstein's quote is spot-on, and yet maths has influenced scientific disciplines far beyond its natural range, such as evolutionary theory.

    One of the best treatises I've read on mathematics is Alfred Korzybski's Science and Sanity. Like Buzz Lightyear it takes you to infinity and beyond, but it's a dense, repetitive, scholarly and very original work, not for the faint of heart!

  2. Welcome to Omnium, Stan,
    and thanks for the commendation. Already the preliminaries contain some gems. Therefore - although slightly fainthearted when it comes to 'dry' science - I shall certainly try to dive a bit deeper into the matter.

  3. Thank you Sean, and you're welcome!

    Korzybski's books aren't science as such; they encompass science, philosophy, psychology, linguistics, logic and maths. Some of Science and Sanity has dated poorly, but the basic ideas remain useful and internally consistent. He got some bad press over the years (e.g. Martin Gardner dismissed his General Semantics as quackery), but Science and Sanity is one of the most rational books I've ever read.

    Neil Postman, Stuart Chase and Robert Anton Wilson investigated and praised Korzybski's ideas; Wilson in particular claimed to have read S&S repeatedly in his 20s, and distilled its ideas well in his own books. And I seem to remember reading that Bertrand Russell liked it a lot. I will stop now, before I begin to sound like a cult member. But if you do have the time and inclination to investigate further, the ESGS website has some worthwhile introductory articles.

  4. [Only three months and one day later:]

    by now, I've read some of the introductory articles: Very interesting! Again, thanks a lot for the link.
    Ah, if only Tetrapilotomos would give 15 minutes of his time to invent the 48 hours day within my lifetime, so that I could read 24 hours a day ...

  5. yes, yes,....I keep trying to reason with my children that maths improves their thinking skills whether or not they will ever confront those confusing alphabet sentences ever again in real life.... ;)