Category Archives: General

Happy 3*11*61

It’s common for the Putnam exam to include problems that involve the number of the current year in some way. (There weren’t any such problems on the past exam, but in 2011 there were two, A1 and B4.) Usually these problems don’t rely on any specific property of the number, but they simply use the number as a stand-in for “n”, so as to make the problem a little bit more concrete; for example, for either of the 2011 problems, you could replace the number 2011 with any other number without changing the nature of the problem.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , ,

Imagist poetry and mathematics

This post is about something I’ve been thinking about since my undergraduate days–the parallels between mathematics and the Imagist movement in poetry.

The key idea of Imagism was that a poem should describe its subject as it “truly is”, without unnecessary words, and without introducing the feelings and personal perspectives of the poet. In its unattainable ideal, an Imagist poem is poet-independent, in that one would hope that two Imagist poets writing about the same subject would write the same poem. And that poem would be the perfect poem on that subject, using exactly the right words in the most elegant possible way.

Continue reading

Tagged , ,

Superman’s mathematics

I recently came across this comic panel in a series of “Rubbish superpowers”. I have to say I’m a little bit ambivalent about it. On the one hand, it’s awesome that Superman used the term “super-mathematics”. On the other hand, the math he uses is just multiplication.

When we refer to mathematics as a superpower, we suggest that it’s powerful and cool. But superpowers also have the connotation of being arcane or completely inaccessible to mere mortals. It’s important to emphasize that everyone can learn math, and everyone should have at least basic math skills.

Of course, there’s no doubt that math is more useful than X-ray vision.

Tagged ,

First post, Emmy Noether

I’ve been debating for some time what to write about in my first post. As luck would have it, I discovered this recent New York Times article about Emmy Noether. Not that discovering the article was hard; it’s currently first on the list of “most emailed” articles.

I’m completely in agreement with Ransom Stephens, who said, “You can make a strong case that her theorem is the backbone on which all of modern physics is built.” Noether’s Theorem really does provide the organizing principle that underlies the Standard Model of particle physics.

Continue reading

Tagged , ,