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315 comments

Hehe (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6325849)

Did he just eat my balls?

slideshow pictures (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6325851)

Whatever happened to 'working it out with a pencil' ?

Re:slideshow pictures (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6325888)

Whatever happened to 'working it out with a pencil' ?

There's only one thing that tastes like PENIS and that's PENIS!!

Tasty!
Chewy!

PENIS!!!

This isn't what ANYONE would call "light reading" (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6325854)

So, some people in the /. audience may want to order a primer [amazon.com] before "diving in" to this.

MOD PARENT DOWN, DONT CLICK LINK (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6325919)

This is a nasty picture thats been posted on Slashdot before

Ah yes... (5, Funny)

Joel Bruick (685266) | about 11 years ago | (#6325857)

The joy of pure math. Second only to the joy of pure self-mutilation.

Re:Ah yes... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6326077)

The joy of pure math. Second only to the joy of pure self-mutilation

I thought it went: "The joy of pure math. Second only to the joy of sex." Oh, wait, this is Slashdot...nevermind!

Re:Ah yes... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6326236)

You missed the joke, but then again, as you said, this is Slashdot.

fp? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6325858)

Did i get it? AHHH!!!! did i get it?

YOU FAIL IT (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6325898)

YOU FAIL IT

first post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6325859)

rawr

What? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6325863)

What? I don't understand. No registration? OMG.

Visualizing the solution... (4, Interesting)

calebb (685461) | about 11 years ago | (#6325865)

Very cool article! I liked the statement: "Nobody knows when some abstruse bit of math will float off a blackboard at a place like this and become a..." It reminded me of the radiant primes observation [radiantprimes.com]

I imagine it will be a method similar to this that helps us discover the first billion digit prime number, not some brute-force method. Speaking of prime numbers & slightly off-topic, on 5/31/2003 there was an eclipse (solar) over Norway from 4:43AM to 6:41AM. 5, 31, 2003, 443 & 641 are all prime...

Re:Visualizing the solution... (5, Funny)

drooling-dog (189103) | about 11 years ago | (#6326041)

Speaking of prime numbers & slightly off-topic, on 5/31/2003 there was an eclipse (solar) over Norway from 4:43AM to 6:41AM. 5, 31, 2003, 443 & 641 are all prime...

Heh heh... If you noticed that then you would've failed this too. A while back my girlfriend showed me a question from a Mensa test that clued me in to what that organization is all about:

Which is the odd one out: (a) 4 (b) 15 (c) 9 (d) 12 (e) 5 (f) 8 (g) 30 (h) 18 (i) 24 (j) 10

Well, anyone who knows a prime from a hole in the ground would choose (e), but the correct answer was (f), 8. And why? Because it is the only "symmetrical" number, as printed on the page!

Re:Visualizing the solution... (1)

j3110 (193209) | about 11 years ago | (#6326165)

8 is the only cube too, silly /.er

10 is semetrical vertically, pretty much.

Re:Visualizing the solution... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6326168)

So when there are two correct answers, one involving some sort of mastery of basic math, and a subtle answer involving typography, Mensa chooses the latter? That seems very wrong to me.

Re:Visualizing the solution... (4, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 11 years ago | (#6326202)

How about this one:

What is the next in the sequence of:
1,2,4,...

My answer was . The sequence is the largest number of separate enclosed areas it is possible to make by adding a single straight line to a circle. (i.e. 1 for no lines, 2 for one line, 4 for two lines)

I hate this kind of question, because it is possible to design a sequence such that any number comes next, so any test which includes the possibility of incorrect answers is just plain wrong. Of course you should have to justify your answer, but since the IQ tests are multiple choice...

Re:Visualizing the solution... (3, Funny)

Guppy06 (410832) | about 11 years ago | (#6326242)

Sounds like you've been working in Domino's longer than you've been working in binary. :)

Dumb question to "test" someone. (4, Insightful)

GoofyBoy (44399) | about 11 years ago | (#6326193)

How arbitrary is that?

How is e) (prime) less valid than the solution?

How about g) (The only number greater than 29)?
How about a) because its the "bad luck" number in Chinese culture (Too bad you missed out on that one, "white devil")?
How about j) (Because today is Sunday and I feel like its the correct answer)?

Mensa is right based on Ockhams razor (2, Insightful)

f97tosc (578893) | about 11 years ago | (#6326206)

Which is the odd one out: (a) 4 (b) 15 (c) 9 (d) 12 (e) 5 (f) 8 (g) 30 (h) 18 (i) 24 (j) 10

Well, anyone who knows a prime from a hole in the ground would choose (e), but the correct answer was (f), 8. And why? Because it is the only "symmetrical" number, as printed on the page!


Well, according to Ockhams razor I would argue that Mensa is right. The concept of symmetry is much simpler than the concept of prime numbers.

Tor

Re:Mensa is right based on Ockhams razor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6326306)

Can you point us to the authoritative "hierarchy of simplicity?"

TEH FIRST POST IS MINE!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6325871)

STEP ASIDE LOOSERS!!!

Waging mental battle with a proof (4, Funny)

pytheron (443963) | about 11 years ago | (#6325872)

What this picture doesn't show is the analogue clock just above the blackboard.. they aren't thinking.. just clock-watching !

Waging mental battle without a proof (1)

GillBates0 (664202) | about 11 years ago | (#6326015)

"I particularly loved the picture titled Waging Mental Battle with a Proof."

I loved it too.

Nothing beats looking at a bunch of stoners chilling out, staring into space, and maybe hallucinating about a proof.

Re:Waging mental battle with a proof (1)

goodchef (213729) | about 11 years ago | (#6326027)

I think the funniest part is the guy wearing black socks with white tennis shoes.

Re:Waging mental battle with a proof (1)

reyalsnogard (595701) | about 11 years ago | (#6326054)

Those aren't black socks .. he's just wearing a conforming white ski mask and gloves.

Re: Waging mental battle with a proof (1)

gidds (56397) | about 11 years ago | (#6326111)

You're probably right - I'm sure more real maths is done by writing on blackboards, paper, or whatever, than by sitting and staring.

Not that pure thinking isn't import to, of course. It's probably like coding: the actual coding is done at a keyboard, even if the important ideas come elsewhere.

Re:Waging mental battle with a proof (2, Insightful)

BWJones (18351) | about 11 years ago | (#6326210)

So, this is the deal with science and making it attractive to folks, so they see the importance of it. How do you impart the feeling of accomplishment and how efforts of pure thought impact the world?

I thought this photo essay did an admirable job of conveying what thinking for a living is like, yet how does one make this approachable to the general population? I had a conversation with a film director once sitting in an airport (forget his name), but he was asking me what it was like to be a scientist and how one would impart that feeling in film. I responded that he would probably be best by following a scientist for a couple of weeks and shooting lots of time with rather tired looking individuals who had much passion for what they do but who spend lots of time thinking, applying for grants, staring through microscopes, writing code, writing papers, giving talks and talking with colleagues and above all, no matter what they are doing (eating, running, showering etc...), they are thinking. How do you impart that on film? I had some ideas, but he was probably thinking of an action movie.

All told however, this article with the accompanying photo essay was well worth the time spent, it would have been nicer to have a more in depth article however.

Re:Waging mental battle with a proof (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6326310)

Bill: so Bob, have you noticed that cute blonde in your 10:00 am Algebra class ?
.
Bob: Oh yeah ! I am going to try and convince her that .5" is actually equal to 1".
.
Frank: You guy's are so childish - lets smoke another bowl.

Is this really true? (4, Interesting)

Jonathan (5011) | about 11 years ago | (#6325879)

But the "unreasonable effectiveness" of mathematics in explaining the world, as the physicist Eugene Wigner once put it, is a minor motivation at best for those immersed in the field. Most mathematicians say they are in it for the math itself, for the delirious quest for patterns, the thrill of the detective chase and the lure of beautiful answers.

I sure hope this isn't really true. If mathematicans aren't really interested in helping understand the world, why should society fund them? I certainly know that a major motivation for my career in science is that understanding the world through science will help people, cure diseases, etc.

Re:Is this really true? (5, Insightful)

Manhigh (148034) | about 11 years ago | (#6325921)

I think that Mathematicians largely arent the philanthropists that scientists are.

However, seeing as how every science consists largely of mathematical models, the ends justify the means, so to speak.

In other words, while a mathematician isnt looking for a way to make a longer lasting lightbulb, his or her ideas eventually work their way into science and engineering applications, even if it takes decades to happen.

Re:Is this really true? (5, Insightful)

Zork the Almighty (599344) | about 11 years ago | (#6326019)

For the most part, we're in it because we want to know. Maybe you think that's a selfish reason, and maybe it is, but when we discover something we immediately share it with the world. The enduring gifts of mathematics are that it extends the boundaries of what is possible with current technology, while presenting us with direction for the future.

Re:Is this really true? (2, Insightful)

Roelof (5340) | about 11 years ago | (#6326025)


I think that Mathematicians largely arent the philanthropists that scientists are.


Thus mathematicians aren't scientists.

Re:Is this really true? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6326094)

This is likely true, but on a profit and loss sheet this shows up as a loss for a long time. It is a hard sell that someday there might be a benifit(MONEY) to the MBA's and lawyers that seem to control the world.

What about Dr. Evil? (5, Funny)

dark_revenant (677988) | about 11 years ago | (#6326322)

You ever hear of an evil or mad Mathematician? Nope, only evil or mad scientists.While they may not be philanthropists, they are not super weapon packing misanthropes. Oh well, back to the lab...

Re:Is this really true? (3, Interesting)

wmspringer (569211) | about 11 years ago | (#6325923)

Eventually, the math turns out to be useful for something. I doubt that knowing a 100-digit prime number would have been any use whatsoever a hundred years ago, but these days I don't even need to tell you how useful they are.

So what if the mathematicians work primarily because they enjoy math? So what if the practical applications that come of it are just a side effect? We still get those benifits; does it really matter that those benifits weren't the primary purpose of doing the work?

Re:Is this really true? (2, Interesting)

Jonathan (5011) | about 11 years ago | (#6325990)

So what if the mathematicians work primarily because they enjoy math? So what if the practical applications that come of it are just a side effect? We still get those benifits; does it really matter that those benifits weren't the primary purpose of doing the work?

Well, I guess I'm somewhat annoyed by the way Hollywood likes to present scientists -- as people similar to the way the article described mathematicans -- that is people that just like puzzles, not worrying about the consequences, even if it means creating some evil world-destroying weapon in the process. That always struck me as a rather offensive stereotype.

It's not that obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6325999)

Actually, you do need to tell me just how useful a 100-digit prime number is. Beyond the supposed beauty of such a number (I personally don't see the beauty of it, but then again beauty is a really subjective term), what's the point? What are prime numbers useful for in daily life? I know trig is useful for rendering 3D graphics and surveying, calculus is used for launching things into orbit and aerodynamics stuff, algebra is useful for financial calculations and stuff, but I've never figured out what prime numbers are useful for, other than spending unused CPU cycles finding them.

Re:It's not that obvious (2, Funny)

wfberg (24378) | about 11 years ago | (#6326051)

Actually, you do need to tell me just how useful a 100-digit prime number is. Beyond the supposed beauty of such a number (I personally don't see the beauty of it, but then again beauty is a really subjective term), what's the point? What are prime numbers useful for in daily life?

Nothing. Ab-so-lutely nothing. Promise never to use them??

(installing a network sniffer right now)

Re:It's not that obvious (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6326068)

public/private key encryption dimwit.

Re:It's not that obvious (3, Funny)

wfberg (24378) | about 11 years ago | (#6326072)

What are prime numbers useful for in daily life?


Searching 1976 to present...



Results of Search in 1976 to present db for:
"prime number": 1238 patents. [uspto.gov]

Re:It's not that obvious (3, Funny)

Alsee (515537) | about 11 years ago | (#6326243)

Results of Search in 1976 to present db for:
"prime number": 1238 patents. [uspto.gov]


Ah! So prime numbers are useful for getting patents.

-

Re:It's not that obvious (4, Insightful)

KDan (90353) | about 11 years ago | (#6326081)

Very large prime numbers are the basis of the RSA asymmetric encryption algorithms which you trust your credit card numbers and other private information to.

Anyway, I'm almost thinking you're trolling because the rest of your post demonstrates some sort of keen-ness for over-simplification. Maybe you're just not out of secondary school yet, but for your information, trig, calculus and the rest are useful for a lot more stuff than what you mention. All the different areas of maths often intermingle in any physical subject.

For the interesting tidbit of information, there has yet to be a mathematical discovery which has not found practical applications. Even group theory, which at first was thought to have nothing to do with physics or any engineering sciences, was found to be very applicable to some extremely interesting problems of fundamental physics (describing the symmetries of fundamental particles).

Daniel

Re:Is this really true? (1)

aaron240 (618080) | about 11 years ago | (#6325925)

Advances will necessarily come from whatever knowledge they gain while satisfying their urge to discover patterns. Why should they have to be motivated by helping the world? As it stands now, the world gets what it needs and the math guys get what they want. What's the problem?

Re:Is this really true? (1)

jez9999 (618189) | about 11 years ago | (#6326273)

Maybe it pisses people off that they have to do a hard job, maybe one that they don't even like, that is high-pressured and requires them to produce results on time, just to earn a living. Mathematicians, by contrast, seem to get it easy, just being paid to sit around all day thinking, and "if they help society then so much the better".

Re:Is this really true? (3, Interesting)

Joel Bruick (685266) | about 11 years ago | (#6325926)

This isn't restricted to mathematicians. There are people working in every field who are motivated by things other than furthering society or understanding the world. Money, of course, is the primary one, but there are certainly others.

Re:Is this really true? (5, Insightful)

Jaalin (562843) | about 11 years ago | (#6325929)

Mathematicians do it for the beauty. Society funds them because what is beautiful to a mathematician often turns out to be useful in many other ways. The NSF is paying me to do math research this summer, and honestly I don't care if what I'm doing has any relevance to anything -- I'm just doing it because what I'm studying is really cool and beautiful. But it may turn out that something I find is useful for something else that I never even thought of. This is what happened in large part with number theory -- many of the underlying results were discovered i nthe 1800's and early 1900's, and only later turned out to be useful in cryptography. You can't predict what will be useful and what won't.

Re:Is this really true? (1)

Alsee (515537) | about 11 years ago | (#6326252)

Mathematicians do it for the beauty.

That sounds like one of those cheezy bumper sitckers about how different professions have sex.

-

Re:Is this really true? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6325930)

If mathematicans aren't really interested in helping understand the world, why should society fund them?

I would argue that even if they are interested in helping understand the world, "society" (by which I presume you mean "government") shouldn't fund them.

But let's assume for a moment that helping to understand the world is a reason for society to fund something. Why would you care about their motivation, as long as they are helping to understand the world? What if they're motivated by beautiful answers, but the outcome is world peace. Do you care?

Re:Is this really true? (2, Insightful)

Ella the Cat (133841) | about 11 years ago | (#6325940)

If mathematicans aren't really interested in helping understand the world, why should society fund them?

Because they're able to create beauty, like artists and writers and musicians do. Not all human activity should be measured with money, even if money is needed to make it happen

Re:Is this really true? (2, Interesting)

smallpaul (65919) | about 11 years ago | (#6325984)

Because they're able to create beauty, like artists and writers and musicians do.

This is a poor analogy. Artists, writers and musicians put their art works in places that the general public can find them. Society would never pay to create "beauty" that is impenetrable to almost anyone who does not spend full time in the field. Even "modern art" is shown in museums that millions of people go to every years. The better argument in defense of mathematics is its utility. I'm glad that mathematicians find beauty in what they do but I wouldn't offer to pay for it if I didn't think it was likely to be useful to me or my descendants.

Re:Is this really true? (1)

Ella the Cat (133841) | about 11 years ago | (#6326135)

You're welcome not to pay for it of course. I didn't intend an analogy, I honestly think there are some things worth doing for the hell of it, not because they are useful.

PS Excuse me if this sounds a bit stroppy, but you really should avoid the scare quotes. Nasty.

Re:Is this really true? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6326186)

Hardly a poor analogy at all, my friend.

Not all new work in mathematics is inaccessible. Matter of fact, some of the most beautiful creations of the past century or so not the complex, inscrutably hard-to-read proofs like Wiles' proof of Fermat's Last Theorem.

Consider Godel's proof. The basic idea behind it is so simple that even a kid could understand it. Yet it turned the mathematical world on its head.

You can also look at Ramsey Thoery. While there are some incredibly arcane and impenetrable areas that a hardcore mathematician can go into, the basic idea is simple enough in English: The Party Problem [wolfram.com] .

As for utility-- well, I'm sure you realize that for a long time, nobody DID pay mathematicians to do their work. Fermat was a lawyer and a political figure who did math as a (very serious) hobby. Archimedes was paid for creating war machines and weapons-- not math. Gauss was employed in astronomy, which served as an impetus to creating some of his mathematics. Ferro was a paper maker.

The idea here is that it really doesn't MATTER if the public pays for the work of mathematicians. We'll do it anyway, because we love it.

Re:Is this really true? (1)

The Clockwork Troll (655321) | about 11 years ago | (#6326187)

I thought the aforementioned Radiant Primes [radiantprimes.com] site was pretty neat, and about as "penetrable" to a layperson as your average expressionist piece.

Re:Is this really true? (4, Insightful)

foonf (447461) | about 11 years ago | (#6325953)

If mathematicans aren't really interested in helping understand the world, why should society fund them?

These are two separate things. Many people are attracted to the natural sciences, and even engineering disciplines, not because of a desire to improve the world, but because they find pleasure and abstract beauty in those fields. Yet undeniably work in those areas can lead to benefits for "society", and therefore people doing research in those areas are funded, even if their personal reasons for doing the work have nothing to do with those benefits. Likewise with mathematics, many ideas thought of as purely abstract and disconnected from practical application have turned out, later on, to be useful tools in understanding various real-world phenomena.

It is totally unscientific and ultimately counter-productive to close off areas of inquiry because at the time they are undertaken no one can know exactly what the consequences will be. And ultimately the motivations of the people involved are irrelevant; we know based on history that there could turn out to be uses for it in the future, even if neither "we" (the society making the decision to support the research), nor those doing the research, can see any at this time, and this potentiality alone should justify providing support.

To put it another way (3, Insightful)

xant (99438) | about 11 years ago | (#6326031)

"Being interested in helping the world" is not the same thing as "helping the world". An ox is not interested in helping plow the farmer's field, but the farmer still feeds it.

Re:Is this really true? (4, Insightful)

k98sven (324383) | about 11 years ago | (#6325957)

I sure hope this isn't really true. If mathematicans aren't really interested in helping understand the world, why should society fund them? I certainly know that a major motivation for my career in science is that understanding the world through science will help people, cure diseases, etc.

Guess what? It gets worse.. it's not only the mathematicians, but just about anyone and everyone involved in fundamental research.

I know I am.. I do theoretical chemistry.. and although I'd love to see something useful come out of what I do, I cannot see any immediate uses for my work.

The point is: It's the foundation research, the fundamentals, that lead to the big, *big* innovations. Although it might not seem useful at the time, it may (or may not) turn out to be very very important in the future. However, by it's nature, we can't know which research is going to pay off in practical terms.

Einsteins work on stimulated emission probably didn't look very useful back in 1910 either, but it lead to the devlopment of the laser, which noone could've predicted at that time.

That's why we need to fund this stuff.

Re:Is this really true? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6326102)

Einsteins work on stimulated emission probably didn't look very useful back in 1910 either, but it lead to the devlopment of the laser, which noone could've predicted at that time.
I wish I got paid to research stimulated emissions.

Re:Is this really true? (3, Insightful)

Sprunkys (237361) | about 11 years ago | (#6325960)

For the sheer beauty of it.

Asking why you should fund mathematics is asking why you should fund art. Who ever got cured by art?

I certainly know that a major motivation for my career in science is the beauty of it.
It's like the sunset outside my window, it's like Dido's new single emerging from my speakers. Today I spent studying for my thermodynamics exam and even the simple mathematics used therein is beautiful. Wednesday is my Quantum Mechanics exam and if it weren't for the beauty of the mathematics of the Schrödinger equation it would be a whole lot less intruiging. I make that exam for the joy and beauty I find in the mathematics and physics, not because it makes your cd player work.

Beauty. That is why you should fund mathematics. The fact that it helps society is a secondary concern. But hey, that's just my opinion. And that of the Pythagoreans, to name a few.

Beauty can be found in more things than a painting or Natalie Portman. It's in logic, in mathematics, hell, it's even in code. It's in patterns, it's in reason, it's in deduction as much as it's in nature, an individual or a thought.

Re:Is this really true? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6326287)

Ferris Bueller:
Cameron has never been in love -- at least, nobody's ever been in love with him. If things don't change for him, he's gonna marry the first girl he lays, and she's gonna treat him like shit, because she will have given him what he has built up in his mind as the end-all, be-all of human existence. She won't respect him, 'cause you can't respect somebody who kisses your ass. It just doesn't work.

Re:Is this really true? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6326001)

why I don't particularly care too much about pure theoretical and other academician environments such as this.

I think that science is first and foremost a method for understanding and thus eventually harnessing and manipulating the world around us. As you said, such things can result of course in great benefits to all.

Of course in the end the question is, "Who is funding this?" If such exercises are funded by any tax dollars than I am assuming that those who see such tax funding as good will then have no problem with my tax funded beer drinking, target practice and wild orgy experiments. Each can be turned into an "applied" field much like mathematics CAN, as research generated by the drinking relationship to unsafe actitivies that would not normally be undertaken (by a sober fellow) can help somewhere I am sure. Who cares, I am not applied... I am theory.

Re:Is this really true? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6326028)

Well, it isn't completely true. Some mathematicians call themselves "applied mathematicians," and they dedicate themselves to connecting math with the practicality of the real world. But it is also true that many mathematicians do math for the sake of math. But why is this a problem? Art and music can be looked at in the same point of view. Music won't necessarily cure cancer, and art probably won't help chemical manufacturing. But areas like math, music, and art, for the sake of it, can bring incredible human satisfaction. Humans are the only creatures we know of that are capable of such things, so why deem math for the sake of math as a bad thing? If you followed your reasoning, I guess we shouldn't fund the arts because they have no *practical* use. Math is an incredibly creative and challenging field, that brings people an incredible amount of happiness. But it also happens that math can have many practical applications, so even if it math is practiced with only math in mind, scientists may find applications for the new math, which can help save the world!

Re:Is this really true? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6326126)

Speaking as a mathematician, I can assure you that it is really true. Most people I know see no problem with this. The problem is that mathematics education is severely lacking of late, and as a result we get people with short sighted views like yourself.

Re:Is this really true? (1)

elizalovesmike (626844) | about 11 years ago | (#6326185)

Most mathematicians say they are in it for the math itself, for the delirious quest for patterns, the thrill of the detective chase and the lure of beautiful answers.

If mathematicans aren't really interested in helping understand the world

I think the deduction you make is a false one.

Depends somewhat on how you define "the world" but certainly "the world" includes numbers.

I don't need my mathematicians to be secret altruists nor public ones; it's a no-op either way. If the mathematicians are engaged fully in the task of discovering connections between primes, patterns in primes, et al., whether they do so with magnanimous thoughts in mind is really beside the point. The point is what they discover. Or absent that the point is what they lay the groundwork for that will enable future discoveries.

You are dangerously close to making the same mistake that would have precluded centuries worth of number theory discovery that has laid the groundwork for at least one prominent public-key cryptography system, today.

Remember: you can't always know what something will be useful for until you understand that something. And understanding it and its vagaries and corollaries can take a long time, indeed.

Re:Is this really true? (1)

Guppy06 (410832) | about 11 years ago | (#6326219)

Silly me. I thought the quest for patterns in and of itself helped one understand the world.

Re:Is this really true? (2, Insightful)

samhalliday (653858) | about 11 years ago | (#6326266)

If mathematicans aren't really interested in helping understand the world, why should society fund them?

i am a PhD student in maths... and obviously i will disagree with you. but i have a reason... we may not WANT to change/understand the world; but it happens!!!

surprise surprise, but the maths we create is used by physicists (about a 50->100 year time lag), which in turn is applied and picked up by engineers/chemists/biologists (another 10->50 year lag) which ends up being some new device or revolution for society to play with. you kill off maths, you kill off science as a whole.

perfect examples involve ANY piece of electrical equipment, communications, medical care and transport.

parent is a troll and is very VERY short sighted (see his home page ;-)).

my cock is pure joy, too (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6325889)

o m f g

That's the nice thing about math (2, Insightful)

wmspringer (569211) | about 11 years ago | (#6325892)

It doesn't actually have to be useful for anything now; in the academic setting you can research from obscure branch of mathematics just because you find it interesting.

Re:That's the nice thing about math (1)

EnsignExtra (667953) | about 11 years ago | (#6325988)

Yes, but may be useful later--like primes. Was there a practical use before RSA? Yet still pursued for their beauty...

Re:That's the nice thing about math (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6326170)

This is only partly true. In the academic setting you do not get to research anything you may feel like researching. There is pressure to contribute to some major(or "hip") field of mathematics. This is largely motivated by reputation. If you are researching something that no other mathematicians(or very few) are actually interested in, then you will find your career to be rather difficult. This starts when you write your thesis; it must be something that hiring committees will be interested in, otherwise you won't get hired at any schools. Then when you get hired, it may be with the assumption that you will continue to contribute to the area in which your thesis was written. I know quite a few mathematicians who do research in specific areas to "pay the bills," while having pet interests that they work on when there is time.

Milking Theory (1, Offtopic)

Chromodromic (668389) | about 11 years ago | (#6325896)

There's four links to two sites. This is called "Milking Theory", where for every set L of sites there exists 2^L links that may be made in a Slashdot post.

In "Milking Theory" if a 2^L solution is constructed, the post is said to be "milked". It is only possible to exceed 2^L links on rare occasions, and then the post is said to either be "Microsofted" or "SCOed" depending on the nature of the post itself.

Milking Theory is most commonly researched and practices by a group of theoreticians known as "Karma Whores".

i guess that explains (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6325901)

all those orgasms i had while doing math homework.

Re:i guess that explains (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6326247)

that's because i was going down on you jenna!

-bree

Fish (3, Funny)

Scrameustache (459504) | about 11 years ago | (#6325917)

I like the picture where someone is drawing a fish [nytimes.com] on the blackboard while others are doing math.

Who knew that I had a future in advance mathematics when I was doodling in my math notebook during class? : )

They took the pic just as he was about to draw the eye...

Re:Fish (1)

Jaalin (562843) | about 11 years ago | (#6325954)

I remember doing a graph theory problem set on a bus on my way back from a fencing tournament (I'm on my school's fencing team) -- one of my teammates looked over my shoulder and said something along the lines of "Your homework is drawing pictures? Can I take this class?" I told him sure, as long as you've satisfied the prereqs, which are multivariable calc, linear algebra, and discrete math (recommended). He was an economics major, so didn't end up taking it :-). I think I was in the process of drawing K_7 on a torus. Graph theory is such a great subject.

Re:Fish (1)

bsrokc73013 (632614) | about 11 years ago | (#6325972)

You can see more of his pictures at this link below: http://www.msri.org/media/photography/ed_alcock_sp ring_2003/index_html

Re:Fish (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6326265)

they're all so skinny

don't fat people do math anymore ?

Re:Fish (1)

Guppy06 (410832) | about 11 years ago | (#6326254)

He was probably trying to think of a new name for a variable, looking at how the English, Greek, and a good chunk of the Cyrillic alphabets are already used. Hell, they've already started trying to turn letters upside-down to come up with new symbols...

A friend of mine devised a new symbol he called "pac," which looked a lot like a certain yellow dot-eating disc...

Karma Whoring, Reg sucks (1, Informative)

jonman_d (465049) | about 11 years ago | (#6325918)

Pure Math, Pure Joy
By DENNIS OVERBYE

A mathematician, the Hungarian lover of numbers Paul Erdos once said, is a device for converting coffee into theorems. Here, then, are a few glimpses into the Truth Factory. The Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, sustained mostly by the National Science Foundation, sits on a hill above the University of California at Berkeley, where it attracts people from around the world for stints of up to a year to lose themselves in subjects like algebraic geometry or special holonomy.

Advertisement

Consider it an embassy of another world, a Platonic realm of clarity and beauty, of forms and relations, where the answers to questions not yet asked already exist.

Higher mathematics -- as opposed to what we do every April 15 -- has been relevant ever since Archimedes leaped out of his bath shouting "Eureka!" more than 2,000 years ago. Nobody knows when some abstruse bit of math will float off a blackboard at a place like this and become -- often decades later -- a key tool in cryptography, biology, physics or economics (as in "A Beautiful Mind").

Take string theory, a mathematically labyrinthine effort to construct a so-called theory of everything out of the notion that the fundamental elements of nature are tiny strings flopping and wriggling in an 11-dimensional space-time. It has been called a piece of 21st-century physics that fell by accident into the 20th century.

In their quest to negotiate this labyrinth, string theorists have made a hot topic of something called Riemann surfaces, invented by the German mathematician Georg Friedrich Bernhard Riemann 150 years ago, but they have also helped blaze new fields of mathematics.

"Since our theories are so far ahead of experimental capabilities, we are forced to use mathematics as our eyes," Dr. Brian Greene, a Columbia University string theorist, said recently. "That's why we follow it where it takes us even if we can't see where we're going."

So in some ways the men and women seen here scrutinizing marks on their blackboards collectively represent a kind of particle accelerator of the mind.

But the "unreasonable effectiveness" of mathematics in explaining the world, as the physicist Eugene Wigner once put it, is a minor motivation at best for those immersed in the field. Most mathematicians say they are in it for the math itself, for the delirious quest for patterns, the thrill of the detective chase and the lure of beautiful answers.

"Math is sense," said Dr. Robert Osserman, a Stanford professor and deputy director of the institute, quoting from the play "Copenhagen." "That's what sense is."

MOD PARENT DOWN (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6326246)

He has a stinky dinky!

terrible journalism (3, Insightful)

andy666 (666062) | about 11 years ago | (#6325931)

could someone please explain the point of this article ? like most nytimes science article it seems to have zero content. it would be nice if for a change they explained something about mathematics

Re:terrible journalism (1)

aaron240 (618080) | about 11 years ago | (#6325952)

Hmm, I wonder if nytimes is really the place to throw down some actual math? They would probably say the article is just a way to inform people about this odd group of researchers. Then, we would hope it generates more interest in math and then people would go get books, for example, on math.

Re:terrible journalism (1)

andy666 (666062) | about 11 years ago | (#6325971)

i'm not asking for hard math. just content other than a mathematician that quotes a terrible play about mathematics written by a non-mathematician.

Re:terrible journalism (1)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | about 11 years ago | (#6326233)

Pure math is math unsullied by notions of practicality.

It's GOOD PRADEEP HUNTING! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6325950)

Pradeep, solving the unsolvable. [nytimes.com] Man, I love that movie...

Pradeep:HOW ARE YOU TO BE LIKING THOSE APPLES SIR?

LOL (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6326091)

+5 funny. Thanks for the laugh

Slahsdot reproduces NYT in it's entirety. (4, Insightful)

igbrown (79452) | about 11 years ago | (#6325973)

OK, not in it's entirety, and not it is a serious problem, but it would be nice if the editors could make sure that each Sunday, we don't see so many postings from a single news source. Maybe some sort of summary each Sunday on interesting stories in the NYT Sunday Edition.

Pure Math, Pure Joy [slashdot.org]
Does Google = God? [slashdot.org]
Harry Potter and the Entertainment Industry [slashdot.org]

Re:Slahsdot reproduces NYT in it's entirety. (2, Funny)

Joel Bruick (685266) | about 11 years ago | (#6325996)

Slashdot: News for Nerds. Stuff that matters. NYTimes.com mirror.

a recent experience with matrices (4, Insightful)

somethinsfishy (225774) | about 11 years ago | (#6325993)

I'd never studied linear algebra until recently when I had to learn just enough to work through the inverse kinematics of a robot arm. Actually, I never really got along with Mathematics very well anyway. But looking at how matrices can solve all kinds of problems just by drawing zig-zags through rows and columns of numbers made me wonder whether the problems they model or the problems themselves came first. As I was learning the little bit of this math that I did, it started to seem to me that the Math has an independent existence, and a somewhat mysterious set of relationships of correlations and causalities connected to but not dependant on physical nature.

If it's in the NYT.. (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6325997)

How do we know that this "math" thing they write about even exists?

oh come on... (0, Flamebait)

andy666 (666062) | about 11 years ago | (#6326030)

the picture "Waging Mental Battle with a Proof" is really silly. those guys need a good beating.

One of life's simple pleasures (4, Interesting)

mofochickamo (658514) | about 11 years ago | (#6326048)

Reading this article reminded me off all the math courses I have taken from primay school through university. I can remember feeling frustrated while dueling with especially hard problems, but the satisfaction of solving them quickly made me forget the pain.

This article also reminded me of a good book (story wise, not much math) that a lot of you have probably read. It's called Fermat's Enigma [amazon.com] . If you haven't read it you should. It's a really good book and an easy read. I might even make you want to read a real math book again ;)

I also love the last picture.... (2, Funny)

greppling (601175) | about 11 years ago | (#6326118)

i.e. this one [nytimes.com] .

Look how seriously the guy on the right side is watching a fish being drawn...

You can trust the NYT (2, Informative)

CausticWindow (632215) | about 11 years ago | (#6326122)

I work in the maths department of a University, and yes.. it's very much like this. We sit around all day in small groups, staring at blackboards, "battling with proofs". Just like in that wonderful movie with the violent australian, "A Beautiful Mind".

No.

Coffee into theorems (4, Interesting)

ortholattice (175065) | about 11 years ago | (#6326127)

Blockquoth the article:
A mathematician, the Hungarian lover of numbers Paul Erdos once said, is a device for converting coffee into theorems.

Erdos himself was a device for converting speed into theorems. Ironically he lived to be 83 years old, prolifically creating new math until the very end.

Like all of Erdos's friends, Graham was concerned about his drug-taking. In 1979, Graham bet Erdos $500 that he couldn't stop taking amphetamines for a month. Erdos accepted the challenge, and went cold turkey for thirty days. After Graham paid up--and wrote the $500 off as a business expense--Erdos said, "You've showed me I'm not an addict. But I didn't get any work done. I'd get up in the morning and stare at a blank piece of paper. I'd have no ideas, just like an ordinary person. You've set mathematics back a month." He promptly resumed taking pills, and mathematics was the better for it. - Paul Hoffman,
The Man Who Loved Only Numbers

My guess is that more mathematicians use amphetamines than is commonly acknowledged. This is how some older mathematicians try to keep their "edge".

BTW have you computed your Erdos Number [oakland.edu] ?

nice... (0, Offtopic)

Quai (188898) | about 11 years ago | (#6326139)

HTML in the topic is a nice touch... :)

Re:nice... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6326166)

doh, wrong article! Sorry

How about RSA. (2, Interesting)

YahoKa (577942) | about 11 years ago | (#6326146)

RSA turned out to be a combination of different parts of number theory that turned out to change our world. Who would have thought that this [wolfram.com] and this [wolfram.com] would turn into something this amazing. Don't let anyone dismiss pure math...

My God (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#6326157)

I am having a hard enough time passing basic college math. No thanks!

Are the spooks running out of mathematicians?! (4, Funny)

carstenkuckuk (132629) | about 11 years ago | (#6326258)

Why else would a major newspaper have a piece that describes maths in a positive light?
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