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42 *IS* The answer to Life, the Universe and Zeta

Hemos posted more than 8 years ago | from the douglas-adams-was-right dept.

316

Venusian Treen writes "In their search for patterns, mathematicians have uncovered unlikely connections between prime numbers and quantum physics. The gist is that energy levels in the nucleus of heavy atoms can tell us about the distribution of zeros in Riemann's zeta function - and hence where to find prime numbers. This article discusses this connection, and introduces two physisicts who tell us 'why the answer to life, the universe and the third moment of the Riemann zeta function should be 42.'"

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Are with us or against us? (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15002789)

That's the question and no, the answer is not 42.

Do you support our President's right to do everything in his power to protect us from further attacks like 9/11, or do you want to commit mass suicide with Jane Fonda and Fidel Castro, like the scumbag al Qaeda lover you are?

Re:Are with us or against us? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15003288)

Troll and offtopic, I know! But what makes you think the president has an interest in protecting us? The president doesn't have any reason to care about me.

42 (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15002794)

I just hope I lose my virginity by the time I'm 42 ...

Re:42 (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15003472)

You misspelled "by the time" (it should say "when"). The sad part is that in your case the answer IS 42.. by the power of two.. and the chick will be a hologram.. with a beard.

Regards,
John Titor

242723920317613145364418177377134 (4, Insightful)

themusicgod1 (241799) | more than 8 years ago | (#15002796)

"As soon as you discard scientific rigor, you're no longer a mathematician, you're a numerologist."

Re:242723920317613145364418177377134 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15003082)

damn right - they're seeimg a conection between a theory of numbers and energy fluctuations in certain types of atom; where is the connection, again?

Re:242723920317613145364418177377134 (1)

specific (963862) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003202)

"You've retreated to your Go, and your books...." "I'm gonna see it!"

Re:242723920317613145364418177377134 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15003207)

"As soon as you discard scientific rigor, you're no longer a mathematician, you're a numerologist."

To that we numerologists say this: 3.14159265358979323! (from memory)

Re:242723920317613145364418177377134 (1)

kentyman (568826) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003460)

Pi factorial? Good luck memorizing that.

Re:242723920317613145364418177377134 (1)

gkhan1 (886823) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003529)

Damnit can people quoting that damn movie! Anyone who has had even the slightest bit of mathematical training knows that it is completely full of crap! They can't even get the right greek characted for the golden ratio! High school kids knows that one!

DNA would have like this very much (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15002797)

I'm quite sure the significance of the number 42 is still one of the least understood issues in the unified field theory ;)

You mean (5, Funny)

stunt_penguin (906223) | more than 8 years ago | (#15002803)

someone found the question? What was it?

Re:You mean (5, Funny)

ZombieRoboNinja (905329) | more than 8 years ago | (#15002836)

The question, apparently, is "What is the third moment of the Riemann zeta function?"

I'm as surprised as you are.

Re:You mean (1)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 8 years ago | (#15002978)

I must have mistranslated your post, I thought it said "go stick your head in a pig."

In more detail (5, Informative)

l2718 (514756) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003104)

In fact, the question is:

What is the arithmetic factor in the asymptotics of the third moment of the Riemann zeta-function?

In more detail: If you integrate the nth power of the absolute value of the Riemann zeta function on the the critical line between heights -T and T and divide by 2T, you will get a sort of nth moment on average. Random matrix theory predicts the growth of this function to be asymptotic to a "geometric factor" (coming from an integral over the unitary group) times the n^2 power of the logarithm of T. It turned out that the random matrix theory prediction is off by an "arithmetic" factor, so that the correct asymptotics is

a(n)g(n) (log T)^(n^2)
where g(n) is the geometric factor from above and a(n) is a rational number. The article is about the prediction a(3)=42.

MOD PARENT (1)

Clueless Nick (883532) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003181)

UP or DOWN, according to your current feelings about Higher Math.

Re:You mean (2)

bmalia (583394) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003234)

The mice will be disappointed.

Re:You mean (1)

mu22le (766735) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003310)

this cant be The Question, since the universe did not reboot...

Re:You mean / wrong article title? (1)

Lord Satri (609291) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003511)

I read TA and was slightly unsatisfied because no discussion takes place between the relation between 42 and "Life and the Universe", only to Riemann's Zeta function and its history.

Re:You mean (1)

joe 155 (937621) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003314)

According to the TV series it was "what do you get when you multiply seven by nine?"... Arthur always thought that there was something fundamentally wrong with the universe.

Re:You mean (1)

tehshen (794722) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003354)

Someone's been watching too much Star Trek. It's "what do you get when you multiply six by nine?", not seven.

*looks at watch* (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15002807)

its not april 1st yet...

Hilarious

please shut up with this *42* crap (0, Troll)

boxlight (928484) | more than 8 years ago | (#15002810)

All my years in high school, university, and as a computer programmer I've been hearing nerds shouting back with "42" whenever the opportunity presents itself.

"Can I ask you a question?" "42!" <snicker-snicker>

Sigh. How much longer am I going to have to put up with this? It's a moderately amusing punch line from am moderately amusing book from 30 years ago.

Please stop now. Honestly.

boxlight

Re:please shut up with this *42* crap (1)

jcostantino (585892) | more than 8 years ago | (#15002838)

Jeeze, no kidding... I have idiot friends who still drag it out way too frequently.

http://www.sportbikes.com/UBBimages3/840937-Beatin gadeadhorse.gif [sportbikes.com]

Re:please shut up with this *42* crap (2, Funny)

toomz (175524) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003331)

Indeed. Zeta? Call me when 42 is the answer to Alpha and Omega. Then I'll be impressed.

Re:please shut up with this *42* crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15002910)

Did you have your sense of humour removed surgically, or is it contagious??

Re:please shut up with this *42* crap (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15002962)

This is Slashdot. Nothing besides flamboyant Firefox-fagging dumbasses, Linux geeks, and "HA HA HAHA HEE HEE HEE HEE 42!!!! LOL!! MOD +5 DOUGLAS ADAMS" to be seen here. Seriously.

Re:please shut up with this *42* crap (1)

traveller604 (961720) | more than 8 years ago | (#15002967)

NEVER! :D

Re:please shut up with this *42* crap (0, Flamebait)

modmans2ndcoming (929661) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003069)

But!!!! 42 is the 3rd Reimann moment, previously unknown!!!! that is HUGE!

what? your just a computer programmer? well, of course you will not understand why it is so very important.

The answer to everything is a Joke (5, Informative)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 8 years ago | (#15002820)

Douglas Adams [wikipedia.org] was asked many times during his career why he chose the number forty-two. Many theories were proposed, but he rejected them all. On November 2, 1993, he gave an answer on alt.fan.douglas-adams:
The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base thirteen, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought '42 will do' I typed it out. End of story.


Tao Te Ching, Chapter 42:

The Tao begot one. One begot two. Two begot three. And three begot the ten thousand things. The ten thousand things carry yin and embrace yang. They achieve harmony by combining these forces. Men hate to be "orphaned," "widowed," or "worthless," But this is how kings and lords describe themselves. For one gains by losing and loses by gaining. What others teach, I also teach; that is: "A violent man will die a violent death! " This will be the essence of my teaching.

Re:The answer to everything is a Joke (2, Funny)

Kjella (173770) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003019)

I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought '42 will do'

Well it was one of the input parameters, wasn't it? Only thing missing was if he'd drawn it from a sack of scrabble letters. Oh wait, you don't know... *nabs another bit of cheese* This Internet thing is great you know, never see who's at the other end. Well, that ape decendant that lives here should be home soon, guess I better go.

Re:The answer to everything is a Joke (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003023)

Of course the true answer is that he came up with the correct answer, exactly because he just chose a "random" one, just as Arthur Dent when drawing Scrabble letters. So since now we already have a clue about what that 42 might mean, so beware of Thursdays. :-)

Re:The answer to everything is a Joke (1)

escay (923320) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003086)

I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought '42 will do'

yea but why did he think of 42, hmm? because we carry the answer in us, just as we carry the yin in us. we seek the question, that is the yang.

my head spins.

Re:The answer to everything is a Joke (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15003450)

You really should try to understand the Tao Te Ching before saying stupid stuff. It really is a profound text.

Re:The answer to everything is a Joke (0, Redundant)

vertinox (846076) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003373)

Correct. But so is life... I mean if the meaning of life was a big joke, wouldn't this make sense?

TFA (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15002825)

In their search for patterns, mathematicians have uncovered unlikely connections between prime numbers and quantum physics. Will the subatomic world help reveal the illusive nature of the primes?

by Marcus du Sautoy Posted March 27, 2006 12:40 AM

In 1972, the physicist Freeman Dyson wrote an article called "Missed Opportunities." In it, he describes how relativity could have been discovered many years before Einstein announced his findings if mathematicians in places like Göttingen had spoken to physicists who were poring over Maxwell's equations describing electromagnetism. The ingredients were there in 1865 to make the breakthrough--only announced by Einstein some 40 years later.

It is striking that Dyson should have written about scientific ships passing in the night. Shortly after he published the piece, he was responsible for an abrupt collision between physics and mathematics that produced one of the most remarkable scientific ideas of the last half century: that quantum physics and prime numbers are inextricably linked.

This unexpected connection with physics has given us a glimpse of the mathematics that might, ultimately, reveal the secret of these enigmatic numbers. At first the link seemed rather tenuous. But the important role played by the number 42 has recently persuaded even the deepest skeptics that the subatomic world might hold the key to one of the greatest unsolved problems in mathematics.

Prime numbers, such as 17 and 23, are those that can only be divided by themselves and one. They are the most important objects in mathematics because, as the ancient Greeks discovered, they are the building blocks of all numbers--any of which can be broken down into a product of primes. (For example, 105 = 3 x 5 x 7.) They are the hydrogen and oxygen of the world of mathematics, the atoms of arithmetic. They also represent one of the greatest challenges in mathematics.

As a mathematician, I've dedicated my life to trying to find patterns, structure and logic in the apparent chaos that surrounds me. Yet this science of patterns seems to be built from a set of numbers which have no logic to them at all. The primes look more like a set of lottery ticket numbers than a sequence generated by some simple formula or law.

For 2,000 years the problem of the pattern of the primes--or the lack thereof--has been like a magnet, drawing in perplexed mathematicians. Among them was Bernhard Riemann who, in 1859, the same year Darwin published his theory of evolution, put forward an equally-revolutionary thesis for the origin of the primes. Riemann was the mathematician in Göttingen responsible for creating the geometry that would become the foundation for Einstein's great breakthrough. But it wasn't only relativity that his theory would unlock.

Riemann discovered a geometric landscape, the contours of which held the secret to the way primes are distributed through the universe of numbers. He realized that he could use something called the zeta function to build a landscape where the peaks and troughs in a three-dimensional graph correspond to the outputs of the function. The zeta function provided a bridge between the primes and the world of geometry. As Riemann explored the significance of this new landscape, he realized that the places where the zeta function outputs zero (which correspond to the troughs, or places where the landscape dips to sea-level) hold crucial information about the nature of the primes. Mathematicians call these significant places the zeros.

Riemann's discovery was as revolutionary as Einstein's realization that E=mc2. Instead of matter turning into energy, Riemann's equation transformed the primes into points at sea-level in the zeta landscape. But then Riemann noticed that it did something even more incredible. As he marked the locations of the first 10 zeros, a rather amazing pattern began to emerge. The zeros weren't scattered all over; they seemed to be running in a straight line through the landscape. Riemann couldn't believe this was just a coincidence. He proposed that all the zeros, infinitely many of them, would be sitting on this critical line--a conjecture that has become known as the Riemann Hypothesis.

But what did this amazing pattern mean for the primes? If Riemann's discovery was right, it would imply that nature had distributed the primes as fairly as possible. It would mean that the primes behave rather like the random molecules of gas in a room: Although you might not know quite where each molecule is, you can be sure that there won't be a vacuum at one corner and a concentration of molecules at the other.

For mathematicians, Riemann's prediction about the distribution of primes has been very powerful. If true, it would imply the viability of thousands of other theorems, including several of my own, which have had to assume the validity of Riemann's Hypothesis to make further progress. But despite nearly 150 years of effort, no one has been able to confirm that all the zeros really do line up as he predicted.

It was a chance meeting between physicist Freeman Dyson and number theorist Hugh Montgomery in 1972, over tea at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, that revealed a stunning new connection in the story of the primes--one that might finally provide a clue about how to navigate Riemann's landscape. They discovered that if you compare a strip of zeros from Riemann's critical line to the experimentally recorded energy levels in the nucleus of a large atom like erbium, the 68th atom in the periodic table of elements, the two are uncannily similar.

It seemed the patterns Montgomery was predicting for the way zeros were distributed on Riemann's critical line were the same as those predicted by quantum physicists for energy levels in the nucleus of heavy atoms. The implications of a connection were immense: If one could understand the mathematics describing the structure of the atomic nucleus in quantum physics, maybe the same math could solve the Riemann Hypothesis.

Mathematicians were skeptical. Though mathematics has often served physicists--Einstein, for instance--they wondered whether physics could really answer hard-core problems in number theory. So in 1996, Peter Sarnak at Princeton threw down the gauntlet and challenged physicists to tell the mathematicians something they didn't know about primes. Recently, Jon Keating and Nina Snaith, of Bristol, duely obliged.

There is an important sequence of numbers called "the moments of the Riemann zeta function." Although we know abstractly how to define it, mathematicians have had great difficulty explicitly calculating the numbers in the sequence. We have known since the 1920s that the first two numbers are 1 and 2, but it wasn't until a few years ago that mathematicians conjectured that the third number in the sequence may be 42--a figure greatly significant to those well-versed in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

It would also prove to be significant in confirming the connection between primes and quantum physics. Using the connection, Keating and Snaith not only explained why the answer to life, the universe and the third moment of the Riemann zeta function should be 42, but also provided a formula to predict all the numbers in the sequence. Prior to this breakthrough, the evidence for a connection between quantum physics and the primes was based solely on interesting statistical comparisons. But mathematicians are very suspicious of statistics. We like things to be exact. Keating and Snaith had used physics to make a very precise prediction that left no room for the power of statistics to see patterns where there are none.

Mathematicians are now convinced. That chance meeting in the common room in Princeton resulted in one of the most exciting recent advances in the theory of prime numbers. Many of the great problems in mathematics, like Fermat's Last Theorem, have only been cracked once connections were made to other parts of the mathematical world. For 150 years many have been too frightened to tackle the Riemann Hypothesis. The prospect that we might finally have the tools to understand the primes has persuaded many more mathematicians and physicists to take up the challenge. The feeling is in the air that we might be one step closer to a solution. Dyson might be right that the opportunity was missed to discover relativity 40 years earlier, but who knows how long we might still have had to wait for the discovery of connections between primes and quantum physics had mathematicians not enjoyed a good chat over tea.

Marcus du Sautoy is professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, and is the author of The Music of the Primes (HarperCollins).

hate to burst your bubble (-1, Offtopic)

Glog (303500) | more than 8 years ago | (#15002855)

but 42 is not prime :(

Re:hate to burst your bubble (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15002971)

but 42 is not prime :(

It's also not the product of 6 x 9, but the Universe is slightly off that way.

Re:hate to burst your bubble (1)

coso (559844) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003010)

Much as I love Douglas Adams, and use 42 wherever I can sneak it in. The whole 42 is not prime thing is baking my noodle though. is it the exception the proves the rule or something? Something just doesn't seem right, but then, well... that is the way things are supposed to be. /Get me BC headache powder, STAT!

Re:hate to burst your bubble (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003037)

Of course it isn't prime. It's 6*9, after all.

Re:hate to burst your bubble (1)

PhilHibbs (4537) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003141)

the first two numbers are 1 and 2, but it wasn't until a few years ago that mathematicians conjectured that the third number in the sequence may be 42
Given that the first number is 1 (not prime), I wouldn't expect them all to be prime numbers. Not that I would have expected them to be anyway, although it would have been a curious synchronicity if they had been.

Re:hate to burst your bubble (1)

smoor (961352) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003461)

So the whole "1 is not a prime number" thing was bothering me. I was a pretty big math guy in my glory days, but not like uber-geek big.

In case anyone else is wondering, one is not a prime number because it has only one factor (1) instead of two like a prime number would. It used to be called a prime number (like a long time ago).

I started out at Ohio State in the Math 190 series (the uber-geek math class). The first day they proved why -1*-1=1. The next day I dropped the class. Being an engineer I can honestly say I've used almost all the math I was taught (in the 160 series), but I've never yearned for the knowledge of why -1*-1=1. I guess I'm just simple that way...

? 42 is not prime (3, Interesting)

Phoenix666 (184391) | more than 8 years ago | (#15002865)

Are there any mathematicians who can explain how a non-prime is the third riemann moment in the string of riemann zeros?

Re:? 42 is not prime (1)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 8 years ago | (#15002920)

Maybe that's why it took them so long to find it...

Re:? 42 is not prime (3, Informative)

teslar (706653) | more than 8 years ago | (#15002975)

I'm not a mathematician, but just from TFA:

a) "(...) the places where the zeta function outputs zero (which correspond to the troughs, or places where the landscape dips to sea-level) hold crucial information about the nature of the primes."

b) "There is an important sequence of numbers called "the moments of the Riemann zeta function.""

So, not only does it not, as far as I understand, claim that the zeroes of the zeta function are actually primes, it also doesn't say that the moments are on the hypothesised line of zeros.

Additionally, the first number in the moments of the Riemann zeta function is 1, also not a prime.

So the answer to your question seems to be that you have misunderstood the concepts - there does not seem to be any reason to expect any number in the moments of the Rieman zeta function to be prime.

Re:? 42 is not prime (2)

modmans2ndcoming (929661) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003093)

The RH does not say that ALL zeros are primes, just that all primes are zeros.

this is a conditional, not a bi-directional.

1, not a prime? (1)

pato101 (851725) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003257)

is 1, also not a prime.
1 is not a prime?
Seems you are right [wikipedia.org] and I was wrong. Nice-

Re:? 42 is not prime (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15003284)

1 is prime *by definition*

I dare you find an x such as x*x is 1 where x != 1 ;)
If you do, we will just have to throw away all of the prime number stuff and retought the theories from the beginning :)

Re:? 42 is not prime (1)

Peter Mork (951443) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003335)

1 is prime *by definition*

In fact, 1 is not prime, by definition. A prime number is divisible by exactly two numbers, 1 and itself. It is important that 1 not be prime so that every number has a unique prime-factorization. If 1 were to be prime, then every number would have an infinite number of prime-factorizations.

Re:? 42 is not prime (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15003352)

I dare you find an x such as x*x is 1 where x != 1 ;)
That's easy. The answer is x = -1. Good thing you were daring me instead of defying me. ;) Moving right along...

1 is not prime. Go ask a mathematician why, they have their reasons.

Re:? 42 is not prime (1)

masklinn (823351) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003131)

It's a moment, not a zero. 0 is the first Riemann moment and isn't a prime either.

Re:? 42 is not prime (5, Informative)

Coryoth (254751) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003159)

Are there any mathematicians who can explain how a non-prime is the third riemann moment in the string of riemann zeros?

Well the Riemann zeta function [wikipedia.org] is an otherwise innocuous looking function where zeta(z) = 1 + 1/(2^z) + 1/(3^z) + 1/(4^z) + ...

It has some surprising and intriguing properties however. One of the more interesting is that it ends up appearing inside a formula to approximate the prime number counting function (which counts the number of primes less than n). Because of the way it appears in the integral that provides the formula (as log(1/zeta(z))) and "poles" (essentially points where the function shoots of to infinity like asymptotes, except on the complex plane) of the function being integrated are vitally important for determining these particular kinds of integral (complex path integrals) it turns out that determining when the Riemann zeta funtion is zero has a lot to say about the distribution of prime numbers.

This means we've converted the problem from studying the distribution of prime numbers (very hard) to studying the distribution of the zeros of a particular function (hard, but a definite improvement). So what can we say about the distribution of zeros of the Riemann zeta funtion? Well without actually knowing where all the zeros are we can at least potentially talk about the moments of the distribution [wikipedia.org] which is basically just a series of statistical measures. The first moment of a distribution is the mean, the second moment is the variance. What they have found is the third moment, the next step up from the variance, of the distribution of zeros of the Riemann zeta function - whih, as we've seen, in deeply connected to the distribution of prime numbers.

The third moment of ther distribution of zeros of the Riemann zeta function can thus be any number: it isn't required to be prime; it is simply a measure describing properties of the distribution. Exactly what that number is though, can actually say a lot about how prime numbers are distributed.

Jedidiah.

Re:? 42 is not prime (1)

texaport (600120) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003225)

Are there any mathematicians who can explain how a non-prime is the third riemann moment

Or why so many mathematicians are struck down before they reach their prime [wikipedia.org] (40, not 42)

For those who didn't read the article (2, Informative)

karvind (833059) | more than 8 years ago | (#15002875)

The reason we are excited because the third number in the sequence of the moments of the Riemann zeta function is 42. It was calculated only few years ago.

the answer of life? (0, Offtopic)

Clazirus (953627) | more than 8 years ago | (#15002894)

its when u reach ur puberty. thats the exact answer.

Re:the answer of life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15003212)

It would seem that here on Slashdot, "42" and your own answer may not be too divergent at all!

Re:the answer of life? (1)

ConceptJunkie (24823) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003485)

Uh, oh. I'm not quite 41. Don't tell my wife and 4 kids.

article was published five days early (0, Troll)

corbettw (214229) | more than 8 years ago | (#15002915)

Maybe it's because April 1st is on a Saturday this year, and the author of the original article wanted to get a jump on the weekend. Or maybe he has a weekly article, every Monday, I'm not sure. But whatever the cause, it should be pretty obvious this is an early April Fool's article. I'm not buying it.

Re:article was published five days early (1)

PhilHibbs (4537) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003174)

It's way too obscure for an effective april fools, I'd expect it to degenerate into silly in-jokes towards the end if that were the case. If it is an april fools, then it is a dull and uninteresting one due to the subject matter being so marginal to most peoples lives. If the number had been 41, then the article would have been entirely believable, so just making up an article like this and slipping in 42 as the only joke is a bit rubbish really.

Re:article was published five days early (1)

chocolateeater (955962) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003381)

I agree, seems like mumbo jumbo to me.

So if the moments predict the zeros, and the zeros are prime, then why couldn't Reimann backfeed the primes into the equation and calculate the moments?

What's the use of using a sequence of numbers to generate primes anyway if it took 85 years just to get the 3rd number in that sequence? Computers are way faster.

How clever! (4, Funny)

Pedrito (94783) | more than 8 years ago | (#15002919)

[Reimann] realized that the places where the zeta function outputs zero ... hold crucial information about the nature of the primes. Mathematicians call these significant places the zeros.

Man, those mathematicians are really clever at naming stuff. Next thing you know, they're going to call the places where the function outputs ones, "ones". Will it never end?

Re:How clever! (1)

cwatts (622605) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003208)

And you have to wonder when a paper on quantum mathematics has a typo in the headline... (elusive vs illusive) retards. watts

Re:How clever! (1)

Sique (173459) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003235)

It's really clever, because the values, for which the Zeta functions puts out zero, are not zero by themselves. So calling a value 'a zero', because used as value in a certain function it returns zero is already somewhat nontrivial.

Re:How clever! (1)

Ibag (101144) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003407)

Some people also call the zeros of a function its roots. A lot of important information can be determined about a function by studying its roots, which is why we bother to give them a name (whether roots or zeros). However, the places where a function takes the value one are less obviously important. In particular, they change if you multiply your function by a constant or by another continuous function. The roots do not. The 'ones' of a function are only important when the function f(x)-1 is important to study.

The point of all this is that terms in mathematics, whether they sound silly to a layman or not, generally have conceptual power associated with them. Language is incredibly powerful at dictating thought, and having the right words to refer to things is an important part of having frameworks to think about things. I know that calling the zeros of a function zeros doesn't seem very profound, but it is more important than you might think.

ok one question (0, Troll)

digitallysick (922589) | more than 8 years ago | (#15002936)

how does this information help our lives at all?

42... says who?? (1, Troll)

specific (963862) | more than 8 years ago | (#15002946)

HA!! I'm only 33, and I already know everything. I just can't remember it all right now.

Re:42... says who?? (1)

specific (963862) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003150)

i just remembered something

|
|
|/
'

Re:42... says who?? (1)

smithmc (451373) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003162)

HA!! I'm only 33, and I already know everything. I just can't remember it all right now.

Are you in base 13?

Ooh really funny. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15003004)

The ratio of funny to informative posts is ridiculous. Why aren't discussions on Slashdot informative; seems like half the replies are jokes that don't really further the conversation.

Re:Ooh really funny. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15003277)

It's easier to be funny than insightful.

Re:Ooh really funny. (3, Interesting)

Surt (22457) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003548)

I'd guess that the problem is that there are, what, like 3 slashdotters qualified to comment informatively on mathematics at this level? Add to that that it is pretty obvious when you don't know what the heck the mathematics are about.

On the other side, every slashdotter thinks they have something funny to say.

It makes sense (2, Funny)

jayhawk88 (160512) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003008)

I mean, "42" really being the answer could be considered infinitely improbable.

Oops. So much for encryption (5, Interesting)

RonTheHurler (933160) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003050)

If the article is true, and prime numbers can be gleaned from quantum stuff, and quantum computers are just around the corner... will that obsolete all our public key encryption tools? How does this affect quantum encryption? Will we have to wait for our household Mr. Fusion reactors to power these systems to maintain encryption? Will all this happen within the next 5 years?

--

Keep my family fed. Visit http://www.RLT.com [rlt.com] Today!

Re:Oops. So much for encryption (1)

chill (34294) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003427)

If the article is true, and prime numbers can be gleaned from quantum stuff, and quantum computers are just around the corner... will that obsolete all our public key encryption tools?

IIRC, Elliptic Curve crypto is based on Discreet Logs and not large primes. Thus, figuring out a rapid way to factor primes will not totally obsolete PKI -- just the PKI that relies on prime keys.

Quantum encryption is a different animal, more related to quantum teleportation of keys than anything else. It is the idea of getting a key from point A to point C *WITHOUT* going thru point B, thus rendering a MITM attack superfluous because there IS NO middle.

  -Charles

Re:Oops. So much for encryption (1)

paladinwannabe2 (889776) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003495)

Your concern about current encryption is valid- if mathematicians better understand how prime numbers are distributed, then it might be possible to generate prime numbers quickly, even without quatum computers. Since our current encryption technology is based upon prime numbers being difficult to find, that could pose a problem.

Number Stuff (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15003052)

Well, first of all, if 42 actually has some kind of Big Meaning, it will wreck the whole thing in the book. You see, 42 was supposed to just be a random, meaningless number. If 42 had been some Big, Meaningful Number, he would have chosen some other number to represent the meaningless answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.

In other news 616 is the actual Number of the Beast [youareatree.com] , so Heinlein had it wrong....

Re:Number Stuff (2, Funny)

Kiryat Malachi (177258) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003519)

I dated a girl from Grand Rapids for a while... area code 616.

So yes, 616 *is* the number of the Beast. At least, once you add in 7 other digits.

The Zeta function (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15003083)

4, 8, 15, 16, and 23 are also significant. Hey, wait a minute......

It's all in the interpetation (2, Interesting)

MindPrison (864299) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003097)

It's possible to conclude virtually *anything* with numbers such as we know them. It's a matter of finding a formula / sequence - call it what you want.

But here's the kicker:

Thinking beyond know numbers takes a mind that are capable of thinking beyond our existing collective knowledge. We tend to agree and pat each other on the back on every single connected discovery we make.

Imagine that we go beyond what we know - and if you have NO clue what I'm rambling about - picture this: You put two and two together as a child would do, you have two different objects and you combine them...to make a third object. This is logic at it's most basic. Now that we're on level - imagine that you take this a bit further and go beyond what you already know, can you do this?

Re:It's all in the interpetation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15003175)

I agree.
Maths is man made. It was made to correlate\measure\whatever real, physical things. It's hardly surprising that "amazing" patterns emerge.
Nature is one big fractal type thing, things repeat and occur ALL over the place in ways you couldn't imagine.
 
That being said, I'm not disputing the fact this is a major breakthrough and will lead to greater knowledge about primes and whatever else. I don't understand what the zeta function or reinmann stuff is all about.

Re:It's all in the interpetation (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15003252)

if you have NO clue what I'm rambling about - picture this: You put two and two together as a child would do, you have two different objects and you combine them...to make a third object. This is logic at it's most basic. Now that we're on level - imagine that you take this a bit further and go beyond what you already know, can you do this?

Although the ideas of a genius and a crackpot are both incomprehensible to others when first presented, when explained, the ideas of a genius are understandable, while those of a crackpot remain incomprehensible.

Your explanation makes as little sense as your original presentation. - You put two and two together.

Re:It's all in the interpetation (1)

MindPrison (864299) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003592)

True,

I'm still working on that ;)

Re:It's all in the interpetation (2, Funny)

Surt (22457) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003330)

Yes, you're almost there ....
http://www.timecube.com/ [timecube.com]

Watch New Age people pick up on this... (3, Insightful)

dildo (250211) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003163)

One thing I dislike about modern physics is how they phrase things in an inappropriately magical way. And then what happens is that New Age people start hideosly misinterpreting the results, fuse one piece of magic to another, and before you know it, people saying things like "physics is just confirming what the Taoists knew thousands of years ago..." -- in short, garbage.

It is very likely that it is just a coincidence that the Riemann Zeta function describes some properties of quantum physics. If you study mathematics you will find all sorts of coincidences like these. It doesn't mean anything; more often than not it is just a consequence of the rules of arithmetic.

But I imagine that New Age people are going to interpret this as that civilizations inside of each atom are trying to signal us "Contact" style by sending out zeros of the Riemann Zeta Function.... sigh.

For a little more detail (2, Informative)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003170)


If anyone is interested in a little more detail/background, Ivars Peterson [sciencenews.org] wrote about this (minus the latest development of course) back in 1999.

-- MarkusQ

P.S. Am I the only one who thinks it sad when a link to an article by Ivars Peterson adds details to a discussion? The posted article said...basically nothing about the topic. Not surprising when you've got the equivalent of one typewritten page to work with and you feel the need to start by explaining what primes are. But still sad.

Proof Of Intelligent Design! (0, Troll)

Naked Chef (626614) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003183)

Well, why not?....It's as good as anything else....and better than cillia, or the eyeball, or whatever else....

BEHOLD! I GIVE YOU.....42! :P

The Ugly Math (2, Informative)

IorDMUX (870522) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003200)

The article gives a good overview for the casual reader--if you're interested in the Riemann Zeta Function itself, look here (Zeta Funciton) [wolfram.com] or here (Zeroes) [wolfram.com]

I love reading about this stuff, but the actual relation between the zeroes and the prime number theorem must have passed right over my head. Anyone else get it?

Re:The Ugly Math (1)

eluusive (642298) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003389)

My basic understanding of it is this: The Riemann Zeta function can be re-written using the product function as a product of primes. Now, if the zeta function is zero, then you can't rewrite that number as a product of other primes can you? That means it's a prime number itself. See wikipedia for more information on the euler product formula connection. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riemann_zeta_function [wikipedia.org]

Unforseen consequences (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15003292)

If I read that correctly the first time, it's implying that by using energy from a heavy atom, you can calculate primes. Does this imply that, because there are (it is guessed) infinite primes there are infinite atoms?

Re:Unforseen consequences (1)

Peter Mork (951443) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003411)

It is known that there are an infinite number of primes.

physisicts (1)

Edie O'Teditor (805662) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003301)

Can someone explain WTF "physisicts" are?

Re:physisicts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15003374)

A common mispelling of "physicists", plural noun representing atoms methods of observing themselves.

Obligatory Alan Turing reference (4, Interesting)

Flying pig (925874) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003339)

The connection with the computer industry is that Alan Turing had a grant from the Royal Society to build an analog system (using gears no less) to investigate the zeroes of the Riemann Zeta Function.

Don't trust statistics, then use QM (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15003382)

Prior to this breakthrough, the evidence for a connection between quantum physics and the primes was based solely on interesting statistical comparisons. But mathematicians are very suspicious of statistics. We like things to be exact. Keating and Snaith had used physics to make a very precise prediction that left no room for the power of statistics to see patterns where there are none.

So of course they believe something from quantum mechanics which everyone knows has no relationship to statistics?

The Slashdot Conjecture (5, Funny)

sidles (735901) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003385)

The Slashdot Conjecture: All mathematical and physics problems that arise naturally in everyday life are in complexity class NP-hard. The Slashdot Corollary: All meaningful discussion of these problems will require either oversimplification or humor.

Patterns in chance (1, Offtopic)

mattnuzum (839319) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003416)

It was a chance meeting between physicist Freeman Dyson and number theorist Hugh Montgomery in 1972, over tea at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, that revealed a stunning new connection in the story of the primes--one that might finally provide a clue about how to navigate Riemann's landscape. They discovered that if you compare a strip of zeros from Riemann's critical line to the experimentally recorded energy levels in the nucleus of a large atom like erbium, the 68th atom in the periodic table of elements, the two are uncannily similar.

Ah, but was it chance? Maybe there's a mysterious relationship between prime numbers, zeta and this "chance" meeting?

Re:Patterns in chance (1)

soloes (415223) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003508)

if it qas a chance meeting, then it had a chance of happening, and there for in some realm of probabilities had to happen. they just found.. oh nevermind we all read the books.

Improbability Drive (1)

couch_warrior (718752) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003514)

The real question is, just how hot was the cup of tea that Douglas Atoms used to power the brownian motion function of his improbability drive when he arrived at the number "42"?

The Music of the Primes (3, Interesting)

ElephanTS (624421) | more than 8 years ago | (#15003533)

"Music of the primes" is a great book for the non- or semi-mathematician that deals extensively with the Riemann function. In this book the author touched on the weird significance of "42" to the function but I'm afraid I can't explain it but sort of understood while I read it. Great book though - check it out . . . http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0066210704/102-69 90660-1984935?v=glance&n=283155 [amazon.com] The history of Maths is way more interesting that you think . . .
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