Walking home from the swimming pool (where he and Neva had been jumping into the water exactly 24 times, calling out all the permutations of 1,2,3 and 4), Simon suddenly stopped to tell me that some day, mathematics may become engulfed by computer science. Apparently, this was what he was thinking about the whole time he kept silent on the way. Once we got home I sat down to listen to the elaborate proof he had coined for his hypothesis. Here is comes, in his own words:
Someday mathematics may become computer science because most of mathematics uses simple equations and stuff like that, but computer science uses algorithms instead. And of course, algorithms are more powerful than equations. Let me just give you an example.
There’s this set of numbers called algebraic numbers, and there’s this set of numbers called computable numbers. The algebraic numbers are everything you can make with simple equations (finite polynomials), so not like trig numbers, which are actually infinite polynomials, just simple finite equations with arithmetic and power. Computable numbers, however, are a set of numbers that you can actually make with a finite algorithm. It may not represent a finite equation, but the rules for the equation have to be finite. So the algorithm that generates that equation has to be finite. It’s pretty easy to see that every algebraic number is by definition computable. Because the algorithm would just basically be the equation itself.
Is every computable number algebraic? Well, we can easily disprove that. It took very long to prove that Pi is not algebraic, that it is transcendental, as it’s called. But Pi is computable, of course, because, well, that’s how we know what Pi is, to 26 trillion decimal places. So there you go. That’s a number that is computable but not algebraic. So the Euler diagram now looks like this:
Now we look back at the beginning and we see that algebraic numbers have to do with equations and computable numbers have to do with algorithms. And because the set of all algebraic numbers is in the set of all computable numbers as we’ve just proved, the set of computable numbers will have more numbers than algebraic numbers. We have given just one example of how algorithms are more powerful than equations.
What about the mathematics that deals with numbers that are incomputable? – I asked.
Well, that’s set theory, a different branch of mathematics. I meant applied mathematics, the mathematics that has application.