At the main entrance to CERN there is an impressive smooth curve of a memorial to the world’s most important equations and scientific discoveries:

# Category Archives: history

# Simon on: Will we ever live in a pure mathematical world?

In reaction to Yuval Noah Harari’s book *Homo Deus* (the part about humans evolving to break out of the organic realm and possibly breaking out of planet Earth):

When you cross the street there’s always a risk that an accident will happen that has a non-zero probability. If you live infinitely long, anything that has a non-zero probability can happen infinitely many times in your life. For example, if the event we are talking about is an accident, the first time it will happen in your life, you’re already dead. So when you cross the street and want to live infinitely long there’s a risk that an accident will happen and you die. So we come to the conclusion, that if you want to live infinitely long it’s not worth crossing the street. But there’s always a risk that you die, so if you live infinitely long, it’s not actually worth living. So we’ve got a little bit of a problem here. Unless you come to the more extreme idea of detaching yourself from the physical world all together. And I’m not talking about the sort of thing that you don’t have a body, but somehow still exist in the physical world. I mean literally that you live in a pure mathematical world. Because in mathematics, you can have things that have zero probability of happening. You can have something definitely happening and you can also have something that is definitely not happening.

However, there’s another thing. How does mathematics actually work? There are these things called axioms and it’s sort of built up from that. What if we even do away from those axioms? Then we can actually do anything in that mathematical world. And what I mean by anything is really anything that you can from any set of axioms that you can come up with. There’s a little bit of a problem with that, you can come to contradictions, it’s a little bit risky. We are really talking about the ultimate multiverse, we’re talking about quite controversial stuff here. The only way anyone can come up with this is by pushing to the extremes.

# Simon on collective intelligence

In reaction to Yuval Noah Harari’s book *Homo Deus* (the paragraph about the a-mortals anxious about dying in an accident):

With individual intelligences, you can have the car that’s driving down the street not knowing that you are going to be crossing the street at that point in time and then poof! You got yourself an accident. With collective intelligence though, that doesn’t happen. Because the whole definition of knowing something or not knowing something breaks down. The members of collective intelligence don’t have the notion of knowing something. It’s only the “central intelligence” that the members are hooked up to that has the notion of knowing something. Which means that you can have the central intelligence deciding that a car driving down the street does not create an accident with the person crossing the street.

# Another evening tea

Simon was showing Dad a graph of how technology is developing exponentially, y = a^x. Dad asked for a specific value of a, and Simon said: “All exponentials are stretched out or squished versions of the same thing.” He then quickly came up with the proof (“a few lines of relatively simple algebra”). “If all exponentials are pretty much the same, that means that all exponentials have proportionately the same derivative.”

# The Camera Obscura at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich

# We’ve found the real 0° meridian!

And it turned out to be a that little path next to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, not the Prime Meridian line. The 0° meridian is what the GPS uses for global navigation, the discrepancy results from the fact that the Prime Meridian was originally measured without taking it into consideration that the Earth isn’t a perfect smooth ball (if the measurements are made inside the UK, as it it was originally done, this does’t lead to as much discrepancy as when vaster areas are included).

# Red Star Line Museum

An amazing visit to the Red Star Line Museum this weekend! It’s a museum telling the moving story of the exodus from Europe at the turn of the 20th century. Red Star Line was a private passenger liner company that brought over 2 million Europeans to America. Simon enjoyed following the story of a 9 year old girl Basia Cohen who fled the violence and hunger in Ukraine in 1919 (well, maybe it was not the story that actually triggered his interest but the exciting quest involving looking for a suitcase in every hall of the museum and completing the tasks hidden inside the suitcase).

# Impressions on Newton’s mechanics.

“Are you impressed?” – Simon asks, laughingly, and I can see it must be a pun. We are in bed, reading up on Newton’s laws of motion that talk of forces being “impressed” upon bodies.

Simon continues: “Newton’s mechanics says that the speed limit is infinite, which says that matter doesn’t exist, which says that Physics doesn’t exist, which says that Newton’s mechanics doesn’t exist. Newton’s mechanics contradicts itself!”

The book we are reading (*17 Equations that Changed the World* by Ian Stewart) goes on to describe how in Newton’s laws, calculus peeps out from behind the curtains and how the second law of motion specifies the relation between a body’s position, and the forces that act on it, in the form of a differential equation: second derivative of position = force/mass. To find the position, the book says, we have to solve this equation, defusing the position from its second derivative. “Do you get it?” – I ask, “Because I don’t think I do”. — “I’ll need a piece of paper for this”, – Simon quickly comes back dragging his oversized sketchbook. Then he quickly writes down the differential equation (where the *x* is the position) to explain to me what the second derivative is. And then he solves it:

# Building dinos and looking them up in the encyclopedia

Although Simon doesn’t have the Magformers Dinosaur Set, he does have all the pieces (he collects the set using the pieces from other sets). It’s great fun to be able to look up the dinos and the instructions in the Magformers online pdf books and bring them back to life:

We also read up on how these dinos lived in the encyclopaedias.

# The rest of the trip to London

Simon loved the Science Museum, even though he did not get to see the Klein Bottles from the museum’s permanent collection (none of them was on display). He particularly enjoyed the math and information age spaces. The Original Tour was a success, too – giggling at all the jokes on the English audio guide, he was bubbling with joy that he could follow everything and was actively studying the map, together with Dad. The only thing Simon really hated to tears was The Tower.