Erdös Birthday Bonus

Well, today is the late Paul Erdös’ birthday (he would have been 97).  As it so happens, my Erdös number is officially 6, though if you believe the citation method employed by APS, AIP, and the Smithsonian/NASA Astrophysics Data System which all have me listed as a co-author of Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek (I suspect both Wilczek and I would dispute this), my Erdös number is actually 4.  But what I really want is an Erdös-Bacon number, something my father actually possesses (at least as legitimately as Hank Aaron).

Mathematics and emergence

Thanks to this discussion I now have a new idea that popped into my head:

Is mathematics an emergent phenomenon?

Hear me out on this one. Obviously we have to distinguish between a) that which mathematics describes and b) the formalism itself. But I think that in some cases an argument could be made that this line is blurred a bit. In any case, as we go “down the food chain,” so-to-speak, the understanding of mathematics that species have most likely decreases (for example, I would be shocked if ants could figure out a square root). Presumably the phenomena described by the mathematics is still there though. Where does complex mathematics “emerge” from this (if it emerges at all – perhaps it’s simply “there”)?

I don’t know why the nature of mathematics is so on my mind lately, but there you have it.

Busy in Oregon

Not that I have a tremendously high readership for this blog, but for those loyalists out there who might be interested to know why I haven’t posted in awhile, I’m in Oregon at the APS March Meeting while simultaneously trying to put together a $15 million NIST grant proposal (plus a much, much smaller FQXi proposal), finish the Quantum Times, finish my presentation for Friday, and organize departmental functions in my absence (I’m chair, God help me). But I did take a therapeutic afternoon off to go fly fishing yesterday afternoon…

God help humanity

I listened to a BBC program yesterday that interviewed the newly installed president of the Flat Earth Society. This is not an elaborate joke (though this is). At first I found this really scary – that someone could deny something as ridiculously simple as this. But my second reaction was anger – anger at the willful denial of science while simultaneously accepting and using the technology built from that science. Science is not something you can pick and choose from – it’s not a smorgasbord. Personally, I think these people – and I include global warming deniers in this category – should fork over all their technology – their iPhones, their computers, their cars, their glasses and contact lenses, their medicines, everything – if they are going to deny basic science since they don’t deserve to reap the benefits of it. God help humanity. And if it turns out there is no God, well, then we’re even more screwed than we were before.

Huge Rube Goldberg

I saw this multiple places including at his Pontiffness’ blog and on Facebook thanks to several friends.  It is just way too cool.


Geoffrey Burbidge (1925-2010)

I’m apparently over a month late with this, but I just found out that radical cosmologist Geoffrey Burbidge passed away in late January.  Burbidge was a confidant of the late Sir Fred Hoyle and a proponent of the quasi-steady state model of the universe.  He is perhaps best known for a work he co-authored with Hoyle, his wife Margaret, and William Fowler – referred to as the B2FH paper – that established how heavier elements are formed through stellar nucleosynthesis.  Since my PhD thesis was on another radical cosmologist (Eddington), and I’ve written a paper or two on alternative cosmological theories (mainly Dirac’s and Milne’s), I spent some time looking at the steady-state models.  The funniest anecdote that I heard concerning these steady-state models involved Hoyle.  Hoyle was an ardent atheist and, so the story goes, when the Pope endorsed the “Big Bang” theory as being consistent with Christian theology (since most prior cosmological models were steady-state), he just couldn’t bring himself to accept something endorsed by the Pope and so he went on developing a steady-state theory (or quasi-steady-state theory as it became known since they had to modify it given the overwhelming physical evidence of expansion).

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