...a companion blog to "Math-Frolic," specifically for interviews, book reviews, weekly-linkfests, and longer posts or commentary than usually found at the Math-Frolic site.

"Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty – a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show." ---Bertrand Russell (1907) Rob Gluck

"I have come to believe, though very reluctantly, that it [mathematics] consists of tautologies. I fear that, to a mind of sufficient intellectual power, the whole of mathematics would appear trivial, as trivial as the statement that a four-legged animal is an animal." ---Bertrand Russell (1957)

******************************************************************** Rob Gluck

Friday, September 30, 2016

This Week's Not-Too-Bigly Potpourri

1)  Introduction to category theory:

2)  This week the #LoveYourMath hashtag on Twitter was interesting, recounting people's early math inspirations:
3)  New interview with Sir Timothy Gowers:

...and here another interview with Ken Ono:

4)  Another couple of twin primes found (can't say I've verified them yet though ;) :
5)  Vi Hart's latest weekly newsletter:

6)  Evelyn Lamb lists all her posts that intersect of math and art:

7)  Math Munch's month-end re-cap of their Facebook postings:

8)  And finally, for your light reading of the weekend (NOT!) this piece on Mochizuki's Inter-universal Teichmuller Theory (h/t Ed Frenkel):

...and in the same issue, this on Cantor's diagonalization argument:

Potpourri BONUS! (extra NON-mathematical links of interest):

1)  Last weekend's TED Radio Hour (NPR) was a re-run, but if you missed this humorous, touching segment from Julia Sweeney it's worth a listen:

2)  Maria Popova's favorite story from The Moth (& Janna Levin): 

[sidenote: am busy with a (non-math) project for a couple more weeks, and weekly blogposts at Math-Frolic might be thin for the interim.]

Friday, September 23, 2016


There was a lot more out there in the Math-o-sphere this week, but these were a few of the items that caught my eye:

1)  This month James Propp got down to the basics of why 'minus times minus equals plus':

2)  Barbara Oakley on rewiring the brain for 'math fluency':

3)  Ben Orlin is reporting from the Heidelberg Laureate Forum, as an "invited blogger" (how cool is that!):

...and check out all his dispatches since that initial one. Good stuff.

4)  Julie Rehmeyer has been covering the story of the bad science/statistics behind 'chronic fatigue syndrome' treatment for a long time. Her latest here:

5) The 138th Carnival of Mathematics served up piping hot:
6)  Andrew Gelman isn't very pleased with Susan Fiske's defensive response to psychology's credibility-and-replication 'crisis':

7)  Cathy O'Neil did a Quora Q & A this week with lots of good, succinct questions and answers that are definitely worth scanning through:

Potpourri BONUS! (extra NON-mathematical links of interest):

1)  I've long regarded speech/sentence processing as one of the most fascinating subjects out there, almost akin to the mystery of consciousness itself. And from this Scientific American piece, it looks to me that very little real progress (since my college days) has been made in understanding how we, and all children across the world, manage to do it!:

2)  ICYMI, "hacker-proof code" via Quanta Magazine:

Friday, September 16, 2016

Friday Potpourri

A mishmash from the week:

1)  Only a little mention of mathematics in it, but I enjoyed this interview with mathematician/physicist Freeman Dyson:
2)  Some math book recommendations for children:

3)  Brian Hayes on a conference for Mochizuki's ABC work, and connection to Fermat's Last Theorem:

4)  Deborah Mayo honors one of her heroes, Charles Peirce:
5)  Beautiful math theorems get ranked:
6)  Rather timely, with the recent release of Cathy O'Neil's book, "Weapons of Math Destruction," last week's TED Radio Hour on NPR was all about 'Big Data':

7)  An interesting take on Bayes Theorem and neuroscience:

8)  And further speaking of neuroscience, in the "Too-good-not-to-pass-along-Dept."... this optical illusion that went viral last week (known as "Ninio's Extinction Illusion") -- one of the best and newest I've seen (there are 12 dots in the picture, but few can be viewed at any moment):

9)  "The Most Obvious Secret In Mathematics" (category-theory-related):
10)  This article (and comments) that John Carlos Baez pointed out on Twitter is fascinating (and scary, about taking down the Internet):

11)  New book is on the way from Ian Stewart, "Calculating the Cosmos":

12) Last weekend I paid tribute to Alan Sokal:

Potpourri BONUS! (extra NON-mathematical links of interest):

1)  From a couple of weeks back, an interesting little tale of music's role in a life decision for physicist Sean Carroll: 

2)  Coffee perks up engineering education (from NPR):

Sunday, September 11, 2016

20th-Year Anniversary (Alan Sokal's Hoax)

[…another post only tangentially-related to math.]

In a recent post at Math-Frolic I alluded to how language interplays with math and science to misguide people’s thought processes.  It is a frequent interest of mine… and mulled it over again a bit this weekend.

Beyond the Hoax” (2008) by mathematician/physicist Dr. Alan Sokal, is one of my favorite volumes of all time; in fact I think it ought be required reading by all students before they leave college. The book crosses boundaries between science, philosophy, culture, linguistics, education, and cognitive psychology. Some may find the 400-page opus (chockfull of great notes) overly pedantic, though I think any pedantry is overwhelmed by the richness and depth of ideas under discussion, while skewering postmodernism. "A Sokal hoax," by the way, is now a pretty generic term to label academic publishing hoaxes that occur almost every year.

I suddenly realized that this year marks the 20-year anniversary since the publication of the original nonsense “hoax” article ("Transgressing Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," 1996) which Sokal managed to hilariously/ridiculously/embarrassingly get published in the postmodern cultural journal, “Social Text,” and on which the above book is based. 
Early in the creation of Math-Frolic I placed a permanent link to the hoax piece in the right-hand column, because I consider it one of the most important, defining events of my lifetime interest in science. If by any chance you don’t know what it’s all about, by all means read the original (below), which Alan himself described as, "a pastiche of left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense... structured around the silliest [postmodern] quotations he could find about mathematics and physics”:

Anyway, this all comes up now because this weekend at a used book sale I stumbled across Sokal’s earlier book, “Fashionable Nonsense” (American title) — it too is good, and I never realized that it was actually published in 1998, a full 10 years before “Beyond the Hoax," and just a couple of years after the renowned hoax was sprung.

A great deal more can be found about Sokal’s writings at this page he has devoted to such (there was a lot of press and commentary followup to the so-called 'Sokal affair'):

One of the great services that Sokal performed was to make journal editors aware of how easily they could be duped. Of course a journal like "Social Text" was especially vulnerable, but these days even more 'empirical' journals fall prey to fraudsters (who can be difficult to detect) as reported on regularly by Ivan Oransky's "Retraction Watch."

In part, this post is also a continuation of a recent Math-Frolic post I did mentioning some folks I find particularly worth reading, for the richness and variety of their thoughts, each in their own way (James Propp, Brian Hayes, Scott Aaronson, Lior Pachter). Add Alan Sokal to that list, although unlike the others he has no blogging presence, and I know of no new writings from him on the way unfortunately.

For those who want to hear more about math, here are the words that conclude Alan’s original piece:
“…a liberatory science cannot be complete without a profound revision of the canon of mathematics. As yet no such emancipatory mathematics exists, and we can only speculate upon its eventual content. We can see hints of it in the multidimensional and nonlinear logic of fuzzy systems theory; but this approach is still heavily marked by its origins in the crisis of late-capitalist production relations. Catastrophe theory, with its dialectical emphases on smoothness/discontinuity and metamorphosis/unfolding, will indubitably play a major role in the future mathematics; but much theoretical work remains to be done before this approach can become a concrete tool of progressive political praxis. Finally, chaos theory -- which provides our deepest insights into the ubiquitous yet mysterious phenomenon of nonlinearity -- will be central to all future mathematics. And yet, these images of the future mathematics must remain but the haziest glimmer: for, alongside these three young branches in the tree of science, there will arise new trunks and branches -- entire new theoretical frameworks -- of which we, with our present ideological blinders, cannot yet even conceive.”
 Hope that satisfies you ;-)

Again (as I hinted at the end of my 9/9/16 Math-Frolic post), I find the general discussion of how language can misguide and misdirect people about science or just rational thinking, of especial note today because of what we are witnessing in American (if not worldwide) politics. Oy vey!....

Our beloved Martin Gardner, as many know, was quite the prankster himself, and pulled off some doozies in his time. But none as searing as Dr. Sokal's. So, Happy 20th Anniversary to Alan and his monumental fakery (and insight).  I'm surprised I haven't seen other celebratory acknowledgments of the anniversary. We shouldn't risk younger generations forgetting it.
The journal “Social Text,” by the way, remains in publication and states online that, since its founding in 1979, it has “forged creative connections between critical theory and political practice.” I find “forged” an interesting term. ;-)

Friday, September 9, 2016

Friday Mix

Weekend reads, ICYM them:

1)  Stephen Wolfram expounds on teaching "computational thinking":

2)  A quick, fun essay on teaching math:

3)  Monte Carlo methods and computer game-playing:

4)  New, free online issue of European Mathematical Society newsletter (including an interview with Andrew Wiles):

5)  For the philosophically-and-math-foundations-inclined, this discussion from Mark Chu-Carroll on some "Cantor crackpottery":
6)  John Baez on the "Struggles With the Continuum":

...and, ICYMI, Baez is now on Twitter here: @JohnCarlosBaez

7)  For a couple of fun-reads:

a.  There's always Ben Orlin:
b.  and this on "Janitor Math":
9)  p.s...: there's a rabid rumor going around that Mathbabe Cathy O'Neil has a new book out (something about mathematics intruding in our lives).... ;-)

Potpourri BONUS! (extra NON-mathematical links of interest):

1)  This "DNA Journey" video went semi-viral this week, but if you missed it, worth watching to the end:

2)  This week's "On Being" episode on NPR with Krista Tippett is a great interview with Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales:

Friday, September 2, 2016

Weekly Potpourri...

From the week gone by....

1)  Odd/interesting little genealogical study tracing back the origin of mathematicans to primarily "24 scientific families":
(...can't help but think how the '6-degrees of separation' notion plays into this)

2)  Math, patterns, tilings, crystals, oh my:

3)  Presh Talwalkar uses a Three Stooges pie fight to talk about modeling, game theory, and this year's presidential election:

4)  A short, but rich, new Carnival of Mathematics:

5)  And another rich offering from Ben Orlin this week:

6)  I've never been able to get my mind to wrap around "category theory," but maybe next time I try I'll use this post from John Cook:

7)  Addition to multiplication, via Evelyn Lamb:

...also, Evelyn reviewed Cathy O'Neil's new book, "Weapons of Math Destruction" this week:

...AND, an excerpt from Cathy's book was available in the Guardian this week:

8)  A fun take on Bayesian stats:

...and Deborah Mayo points to this Bayes paper that she deems "superb":

9)  Haven't explored it very much myself, but math fans who enjoy board games may want to check out this new one:

10) "A Mathematician Goes to Washington" (and works for Al Franken):

11)  John C. Baez is newly on Twitter. If you're on Twitter you should follow him: @baez72033757

12)  Math-Frolic posts this week touched on Ford Circles and Lior Pachter, and a techie browser question.

Potpourri BONUS! (extra NON-mathematical links of interest):

1)  I've long thought a lot of "social science" ought more accurately be called "social studies," and beginning to feel similarly a lot of "neuroscience" might better be deemed, "neuro studies":

2)  With a long-time interest in psycholinguistics I found this recent bit of Twitter banter interesting (...may have to think about it briefly to catch what's going on):