September 25, 2015

√2 hates π

And why not?  Although √2  and  π are both irrational real numbers, the former is a lowly algebraic number while the latter is transcendental.  Surely that is enough for √2  to envy and hate its much hyped competitor!

Before you decide that I have completely lost it, let me point out that the above ascription of emotions to numbers is no more imbecilic than ascriptions of emotions to temporally organized pitches (along with durations, timbres, and amplitudes) which constitute a piece of music.  A recent example of this dimwitted psycho-musicology can be found in The Guardian (Sept. 24, 2015) where one Kate Molleson had this to say about the music of the Spanish modernist composer Christobal Halffter (italics mine):
He lived in Spain during the Franco regime and his music burns with the desire for non-violence and human rights.

Why a newspaper that employs competent and perceptive music critics like Tom Service would give space to vacuous babbling of a fucking retard like Ms Molleson is beyond me.  But so long as Ms Molleson continues to receive regular paychecks from The Guardian, I hope she gets to write on other subjects as well.  This way the world may learn that because Isaac Newton was abandoned by his mother at the age of three, his laws of motion burn with the resentment of parental neglect.  Or that because Alan Turing was gay, his mathematical model of computation - the Turing Machine - burns with the desire for handsome young men.

September 18, 2015

The future of critical thinking

A few days ago I had to give my students a very informal explanation of the notion of logical possibility: an entity or a state of affairs is 'logically possible' if its description does not involve a logical contradiction.  As usual, I started with a trivial example.  I said:

"I'll tell you the beginning of a story - just a couple of sentences - and then I'll stop and ask you if I should continue because you accept the beginning as describing something that is possible.  So, yesterday I was at a garage sale where I saw a coffee table in the shape of a square circle, i.e., the shape that is both a genuine square and an honest-to-goodness circle.  I bought this coffee table and brought it home."

Then I stopped and asked if I should continue.  One student, a cheerful young woman, immediately raised her hand and declared "No!"
   "Good," I said encouragingly. "Now tell us why not?"
   "Because who on earth would want to buy such a weirdly shaped coffee table!"