In this fascinating opening instalment to a new series on math for adults, the New York Times
's Steven Strogatz uses a Sesame Street sketch to begin unpicking the subtle wonder of numbers:
The best introduction to numbers I've ever seen -- the clearest and funniest explanation of what they are and why we need them -- appears in a "Sesame Street" video called "123 Count With Me." Humphrey, an amiable but dim-witted fellow with pink fur and a green nose, is working the lunch shift at The Furry Arms hotel, when he takes a call from a room full of penguins. Humphrey listens carefully and then calls out their order to the kitchen: "Fish, fish, fish, fish, fish, fish." This prompts Ernie to enlighten him about the virtues of the number six.
From Fish to Infinity
Children learn from this that numbers are wonderful shortcuts. Instead of saying the word "fish" exactly as many times as there are penguins, Humphrey could use the more powerful concept of "six."
A further subtlety is that numbers (and all mathematical ideas, for that matter) have lives of their own. We can't control them. Even though they exist in our minds, once we decide what we mean by them we have no say in how they behave. They obey certain laws and have certain properties, personalities, and ways of combining with one another, and there's nothing we can do about it except watch and try to understand. In that sense they are eerily reminiscent of atoms and stars, the things of this world, which are likewise subject to laws beyond our control ... except that those things exist outside our heads.
Researchers at UC Riverside and Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada have published a paper describing their ongoing success in setting a “transparent nanocrystalline yttria-stabilized-zirconia” into patients’ skulls, which reveal the patients’ brains so that the patients’ brains can be zapped with therapeutic lasers.
One million miles from Earth, hanging in space between Earth’s gravitational pull and the sun’s, is the DSCOVR satellite and NASA’s incredible EPIC camera. Every two hours, EPIC takes a photo of Earth “to monitor ozone and aerosol levels in Earth’s atmosphere, cloud height, vegetation properties and the ultraviolet reflectivity of Earth.” The above video […]
In Botswana, conservation scientists from the University of New South Wales are painting eyes on the rear ends of cattle in an effort to deter lions from eating them. As the lions’ protected habitats shrink, they move closer to human settlements. In Botswana, the lions attack the livestock that the subsistence farmers count on. That […]
Much of what goes into creating an amazing photo happens in the digital darkroom. Here’s your chance to master all things photo editing: the Ultimate Adobe Photo Editing Bundle, now available in the Boing Boing Store for just $29.99.Across 8 courses and over 41 hours of intensive instruction, you’ll learn the fundamentals of Adobe’s suite of photo […]
3D printers are hot, but they’re also pricey. While the prospect of cranking out everything we can dream up is enticing, cost is often one factor that keeps us from jumping onto the 3D printing train.Now, thanks to M3D, that doesn’t have to be the case. You can now get its flagship 3D printer–plus four reels of filaments–for just […]
It’s no secret that technology is changing the way we all work—but it’s also transforming the way we play. The games of today look nothing like those of 10 or even 20 years ago: these days it’s all about mobile and 3D. And now you can learn to design 3D mobile games with the Intro to Unity 3D Game […]