Tag Archives: mathematics

reblog: Pi in the Sky Science Journalism

I seem to be doing a lot of reblogging lately (a lot for me, anyway). But I’m on kind of a math kick right now, and this ties in nicely with all that.

4 gravitons

You’ve probably seen it somewhere on your facebook feed, likely shared by a particularly wide-eyed friend: pi found hidden in the hydrogen atom!




From the headlines, this sounds like some sort of kabbalistic nonsense, like finding the golden ratio in random pictures.

Read the actual articles, and the story is a bit more reasonable. The last two I linked above seem to be decent takes on it, they’re just saddled with ridiculous headlines. As usual, I blame the editors. This time, they’ve obscured an interesting point about the link between physics and mathematics.

So what does “pi found hidden in the hydrogen atom” actually mean?

It doesn’t mean that there’s some deep importance to the number pi in nature, beyond its relevance in mathematics in general. The reason that pi is showing up here isn’t especially deep.

It isn’t trivial either, though. I’ve seen a few people…

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Secret Code

kid codeWhen I was a high school kid, my dad and I sometimes played a game where one of us would make up a secret code, write a message in that code, and the other would try to decipher the message. We generally used simple substitution ciphers, so it was an exercise in letter frequency analysis and word guessing.

There’s a cute secret code I found in a book back then that really stuck with me because of the neat way it looks. It also stuck with me because it’s so simple that once you learn it, you really can’t forget it.

So for some Saturday fun, I thought I’d share it with you.

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Moar Math!


But my brain is full!

You may have noticed that, in a number of recent posts, the topic has been math. The good-bad news is that there’s more to come (sorry, but I love this stuff).  The good-good news is that I’m done with math foundations. For now.

To wrap up the discussion of math’s universality and inevitability — and also of its fascination and beauty — today I just have some YouTube videos you can watch this Sunday afternoon. (Assuming you’re a geek like me.)

So get a coffee and get comfortable!

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Inevitable Math


Oh, no! Not math again!

Among those who try to imagine alien first contact, many believe that mathematics will be the basis of initial communication. This is based on the perceived universality and inevitability of mathematics. They see math as so fundamental any intelligence must not only discover it, but must discover the same things we’ve discovered.

There is even a belief that math is more real than the physical universe, that it may be the actual basis of reality. The other end of that spectrum is a belief that mathematics is an invented game of symbol manipulation with no deep meaning.

So today: the idea that math is universal and inevitable.

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Morals, Reason & Otherness

three threadsIt was never the plan for this blog, but I’ve found myself several times writing about morals (for example: here, here, and very recently here). In those posts I touched on what morality means and how we might define it. I make no claim to breaking new ground or having anything particularly insightful to say — just my 1/50th of a buck based on my own observations, thoughts, and experiences.

The last week or so a set of three thought threads wound through the loom of my mind and seemed to form an interesting fabric. They have to do with the nature of morals, the usefulness of reason, and our modern sense of otherness.

Today I’m going to try to make something out of that fabric.

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The Universal Computer



I’ve written here before about chaos theory and how it prevents us from calculating certain physical models effectively. It’s not that these models don’t accurately reflect the physics involved; it’s that any attempt to use actual numbers introduces tiny errors into the process. These cause the result to drift more and more as the calculation extends into the future.

This is why tomorrow’s weather prediction is fairly accurate but a prediction for a year from now is entirely guesswork. (We could make a rough guess based on past seasons.) Yet the Earth itself is a computer — an analog computer — that tells us exactly what the weather is a year from now.

The thing is: it runs in real-time and takes a year to give us an answer!

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