Thursday, August 09, 2007

Dangerous Knowledge

22:05 Dangerous Knowledge
Maths and Madness: Part of the Science You Can't See season. David Malone looks at the work and lives of Georg Cantor, Ludwig Boltzmann, Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing. [S]



No, I didn't watch it all if you're curious. However, after the Real Hustle (pfft) finished, I was able to persuade the remote holder to flick over to BBC4. I had actually been whinging throughout Real Hustle for the channel to be switched over, and on two occasions (to shut me up) this proved a success. However, supposedly, the narrator of that programme sounded monotonous! I managed to see someone writing something, and then make circles with their blood before it was turned over to the real hustle again.

The teletubbies also made the link to 'Maths and Madness' and so my path in life is defined. (Well to them anyway!) They found the two second viewing of it quite depressing and so I had another mini sulk as I glared at the real hustle. Thankfully, when it finished I was able to watch the last couple of minutes of 'Dangerous Knowledge'. It was quite interesting and TW actually seemed to be watching it. (Well apart from when I was told to shut the heck up, when I got excited to see TW watching it, and explained something further. I was told, 'I can hear you know!' I had asked for that, but it was most shocking and unlike TW behaviour).

The bit we watched was about Alan Turing, and one person was saying how Turing liked to think of himself as a machine. His unfortunate suicide and circumstances were mentioned as TW watched. (Po was there as well but just making sarcy comments which were ignored.) Then Gödel was mentioned (and I realised that I'd been embarrassingly mispronouncing his name as God-el!) Once again it was the cue for me to start talking to TW about Gödel, and once again I was told to shut up. I don't really know what made TW watch it, and I didn't dare ask at the time. However, Eienstein face was welcomed by a cheer from the audience who recognised him! The other mathematicians who were mentioned (Cantor and Boltzmann), I'm not too familiar with. Well I'd never heard of Boltzmann before(!) but I know a little about Cantor.

Anyway, from the bit we watched, the uncertainty of mathematical logic was spoken about. I mentioned this in one of my earlier mumbo jumbo posts, Maths: something .... , however as always, I had a lot of preamble there. I think I want to re-say that I really like this uncertainty business. I think it fits with everything nicely. I don't really know what I'm saying, but to me this uncertainty is like one of them mathematical secrets! You might want to stop reading now, but it's one of them things that when someones talking about maths, you can think to yourself, 'Ah, but I know this one thing that you don't'. Not in a unfriendly way of course, but in that quietly something way. It's that thing that sticks out in a painting and leaves a lasting impression. I'm not saying that other things in mathematics are not fascinating, but this uncertainty has really made me 'awe struck'.

I seem to really ramble a lot about this subject, which I have close to zero understanding off, so please excuse it. What I gathered from that programme was that Turning liked to think himself as a machine, whereas Gödel valued human intuition. I can understand why Turing was probably drawn to machines, since they 'don't lie' and can be called, 'honest'. However, I hate the notion of humans being machines. It seems like a lifeless notion, to call a mathematician a machine! I think one reason why I'm excited to talk to mathematicians and talk to them about their research, (even though I don't understand it), is because a mathematician is very much alive. I get excited by the prospect of discussing maths no matter what the topic is. Mathematicians make mathematics what it is, and it is namely because of mathematicians that other 'young fools like me' want to learn more about maths. If maths just existed and was done by robots and machines, I don't think I would find myself enchanted by it, as I do now.

Mathematics is an alive subject, and you can actually breath it in most times. Mathematicians, who do maths obviously, can't be machines if they're doing an alive and energetic subject!! I mean they make the subject alive and interesting. Machines seems to go against everything. I know that sometimes we're robotic in out actions, but although I've forgotten what Gödel said about this, he was right. (Well its in my head, but escaping being formed into a sentence!) I don't know why, but I liked the sound of Kurt Gödel. He sounds like an interesting fellow, but Po wasn't amused to hear that he made his wife try all his food before eating it himself! :D (when he thought someone was trying to poison him).

Hmmm, I'm not liking the name of our new maths building being called 'The Alan Turing building' anymore. I mentioned this to TW and was shocked to hear TW suggest that can't it be called 'the Fermat Building'. So they do actually listen to somethings I say - hurrah. I'm not saying that Alan Turing wasn't a brilliant mathematician, but I don't like the notion of machines. Which mathematician would you want to name that building after? Naturally I'd choose Galois, but I think they were looking to name it after a Manchester Mathematician. 'The Turing Building', sounds much better than 'The Alan Turing Building' as does 'The Newman Building'.

BTW this was not the post I mentioned in my post a few hours ago! This was as a result of me getting excited about hearing what others thought of the uncertainty of logic. One guy was of the impression that it should be brushed under the carpet. I disagree - it should be there in the middle, making a statement. Saying that we know this, but still we have so much brilliant mathematics that we can create and use. If I was to draw a picture to describe things it would definitely have that in the centre - a dark jewel of some sort. The Music of Primes has just started now, and I must return to my sulking for the remote is once more, no longer in my hands! Wow- I'm feeling rejuvenated! (or has my madness already started).

A (rather long) passing comment. I was asked: 'If you were an employer, what are the three most important things that you would look for in applicants, that were being interviewed.'

The thing that I remember putting down was enthusiasm. That is what differentiates us from machines and robots. We can be enthusiastic about what we do, and we should aspire to be enthusiastic in whatever we do. Since by doing so, we make the task at hand much enjoyable and lighter on the stress points! So yes, although I'm never going to be employing anyone, I know that what I admire in a person is there enthusiasm which can hopefully carry them through and which can be passed onto others.

I think this enthusiasm and energy is a particular trait of maths teachers as well. Mathematicians are enthusiastic about their maths, and this they show to the students, who in turn hopefully feel that same energy. I think this is where I've been lucky. Although there are different levels of this energy and they are shown differently by different people, they make a difference. Sometimes you feel this energy in the way a certain thing is explained, and other times you feel it from the voice and movement of your teacher. You feel a reason to get excited and happy and then you want to know more. You want to be there with that euphoria.

From my own experience, without a doubt, I've got to say that those lecturers and teachers who have taught me without this energy, have sadly made me not like subjects (and consequently I do badly). Thankfully I was saved in sequence and series and also in mechanics! (I can't believe that turn around). And so it is now that I hope that my stats lecturer next semester, can bring about a turn around in my attitude towards stats. :) Should I leave this in the hands of my lecturer? I think that I must, for I will never on my own feel that energy about stats! It's erm.... lifelesss *runs away from statisticians*. My attitude is positive at the moment, which is a bonus, but I should try and bring that energy myself, if the lecturers and teachers don't. I should but don't, but I will.... someday! I think that when I see my lecturers passionate about teaching and about maths, it passes onto me. I don't really want lectures to end at times. (Yep, having watched that programme I'm missing lectures. :( )

Wow that was a very long passing comment. I'll zip it now!

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