Saturday, November 16, 2013

Bill Nye, Brian Greene, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Lawrence Krauss have a brilliant little discussion on the limitations of mathematics, and its importance and relevance to humanity

Math lovers and aficionados will find the following discourse both entertaining and informative.

Below you will find the video and partial transcript of Arizona State University’s Origins Project’s Q&A segment from their ‘The Storytelling of Science’ panel discussion, featuring “well-known science educator Bill Nye, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, theoretical physicist Brian Greene, Science Friday’s Ira Flatow, popular science fiction writer Neal Stephenson, executive director of the World Science Festival Tracy Day, and Origins Project director Lawrence Krauss.”

The first question asked of the panel was:
Q: “If you could give us all a one word piece of advice for our own science storytelling, what would it be?”
Bill Nye was the first to reply with, “Algebra, learn algebra.” Neil deGrasse Tyson follows with, ‘Ambition’. Lawrence Krauss with, ‘Passion’. Neal Stephenson with, ‘Empathize’. Richard Dawkins states that since empathize has already been taken, he will choose ‘Poetry’. While Ira Flatow states that ”you should be able to tell it so that your mother can understand it.”

The second question asked by the audience is what kicks off the fireworks:
Q: “I’ve always wanted to be an astronautical engineer, but I am horrible at math, but I’ve got lots of passion. Can this dream ever be a reality and where do I start?”
The dialogue of the panelists was as follows:
Lawrence Krauss: “As Bill said, math is the language of science, and I think you have to be able to be adept at it.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson: [interrupting Krauss] “Math is the language of the universe.”

Lawrence Krauss: “Yes, You’re right, I agree with you there.”

…audience applauds and cheers…

Lawrence Krauss: “I agree, but let me just finish. Too many people think that you have to be a mathematical wizard… you don’t have to be the best mathematician in your class, you don’t have to be a wiz. It takes all type to do science, and any stereotype just doesn’t work. If you’re interested, do it.”…

Bill Nye: “But the other thing, I would say, you say you’re bad at math, I bet you’re not that bad. And I just want to remind you that when it comes to math there is no substitute for practice. It sucked for me, it sucks for everyone. You just have to practice. So when you come to me and say ‘I’m bad at math’, I am open minded of course but skeptical. I bet you can do it whoever you are.”

Lawrence Krauss: “You know, that’s an important point. We were talking about it last night too… I like science museums because they show science as fun but science is hard work like anything, like music, like anything else to do it well, and it takes a lot of work. And if you don’t enjoy it you can’t do the work, but just enjoyment alone isn’t enough, you really got to be willing to work at it.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson: “I think what’s going on here is, people presume that if the math is not coming easy that therefore you’ll never learn it. And I meant it literally that math is the language of the universe, and it’s like any other language, especially a language that does not share the Roman alphabet. So, for example, if you wanted to study Chinese, it looks completely intractable at first… and you can ask the question, ‘how long does it take one to become fluent in Chinese, if you’re not Chinese yourself?’ …it can take… almost 10 years, if you never go to China. If you go to China, maybe 5 years of intensive exposure - and you’ve never done that with math - imagine that level of exposure to math, what kind of fluency you would have at the other end of that pipeline. So at least give yourself the opportunity that any person learning a foreign language would give themselves before you turn around and say you’re not good at math.”

…audience applauds and cheers…

Brian Greene: [addressing Neil deGrasse Tyson] “The question that comes to mind for me is, how do you know that math is the language of the universe?”

Neil deGrasse Tyson: “The universe told me.”…

Bill Nye: “It’s a first approximation”…

Brian Greene: “I was wondering, I have a question about this, could you imagine that one day far into the future we encounter some alien civilization and they say, ‘hey, show us what you’ve done to understand the universe’, and we bring out our math books with all our theorems in physics and they turn to us and say, ‘Math! We tried that, it takes you just so far! And the real way to do it is like this!’

Neil deGrasse Tyson: “I would say, that whatever that real way is it’s not manifest to us at this moment, and until that day happens where an alien tells us how backwards we are, all I can say is that the math that we did invent out of our human brain - as you [pointing to Brian Greene] surely know Eugene Wigner said the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in describing the universe - the fact that it works at all is sufficient enough for me.”

…a little chaos ensues…

Lawrence Krauss: “I want to go on record, and this is a momentous occasion, I want to go on record as agreeing with Brian. In a sense that it is fascinating if you’re a theoretical physicist to wonder when you find something fascinating - some mathematical formula that’s fascinating - whether it’s a property of our brains or whether it’s a property of the universe, and we just don’t know I think is the answer….”

Brian Greene: “Right, but let me answer your question. I find it slightly confusing because, Neil, you describe math as something that we create, so why is it the thing that we create is somehow intrinsic to the universe?...”

Neil deGrasse Tyson: “I don’t lose sleep over that, I celebrate it.”

Brian Greene: “It’s a good thing, I celebrate it too.”

Lawrence Krauss: “But it is the question, there may be limitations of our understanding of the universe because of the way our brains work…”

Neil deGrasse Tyson: “That’s surely the case. That’s surely the case.”…

Lawrence Krauss: “But seriously that’s an interesting question and we really have to wonder about that, and again, as some of us are on the forefront of physics, you wonder at some point when it’s going to end.”…

Bill Nye: “But, to the questioner’s question, I wouldn’t worry about the possibility that mathematics is going to turn out to be ineffective in describing the universe and use that as a reason to not keep practicing. Press on.”

…audience applauds and cheers…
The above dialogue and more takes place in the first few minutes of the following video embedded below.

Q&A Segment - The Great Debate: THE STORYTELLING OF SCIENCE (Part 2/2)

Part one of ‘The Storytelling of Science’ follows and is well worth the watch as well.

The Great Debate: THE STORYTELLING OF SCIENCE (Part 1/2)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Update from La Belle Besogne Farm for May, June, and July 2013: Math in Real Life, Food and Farming, CSA

Below you will find a short update and a beautiful poster put together by Marv on what's been taking place at La Belle Besogne Farm in May, June, and July. The video series for this section of Math in Real Life can be found at Food and Farming, Section 1: Community Supported Agriculture, CSA.
"Greetings from the Eastern seaboard. Here's a photo update of what's growing out here. It's been hot dry and crusty followed by a biblical downpour. The bugs and weeds are thriving, the hard-drive is making strange noises, so video work will have to wait until the fall (also I barely have time to take a shit, let alone edit videos). I'm finally getting an idea of what people mean when they say they are too busy. I feel like scratching my back till there's nothing left. But all in all things are great!

"...You'll be happy to know we're keeping records and should have some numbers for you soon. Things are scrawled in different places but it looks to be a pretty good picture of harvest amounts etc.

"There are also quite a few losses, a whole bed of Bok Choi that got eaten by cabbage moth, a half-bed of broccoli that went to flower before we could harvest it and about thirty feet of spinach that barely germinated. There's plenty of backup crops for our shares and market tho. Looking back on the spring it feels like we were just planting out tons of extra stuff expecting everything to fail. But the weather seems to have stabilized, lots of sun and lots of rain, the soil is looking great and we're crushing bugs (the bad ones only) every chance we get.

"Oh and the tobacco plants are getting huge! One is almost four feet high, thanks for that. (The slugs love the huge leaves) So anyway, as soon as we get a bit of time for data entry, I'll send that stuff your way. Till then, take care and enjoy the summer that seems to be flying by way too fast."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Torrent now available for Series IVa, and an Update: Language of Mathematics and Math in Real Life (#152)

Table of Contents: Language of Mathematics, Math in Real Life

Direct links to torrents on The Pirate Bay:
  • Series I: Videos #1 to #35 for The Language of Mathematics, produced in 2007.
  • Series II: Videos #36 to #58 for The Language of Mathematics, produced in 2008.
  • Series IIIa: Videos #61 to #92 for The Language of Mathematics, produced in 2009.
  • Series IIIb: Videos #93 to #142 for The Language of Mathematics, produced in 2010-2011.
  • Series IVa: Videos #143 to #151 for The Language of Mathematics plus some videos for Math in Real Life, produced in 2011-2013.


At the request of my readers, in 2009 I began to provide torrents for the math videos. The torrents are available through The Pirate Bay and other file sharing networks.

Downloads are series specific and the files organized based on their video number and/or year, i.e, the order in which the videos were produced. See the table of contents for The Language of Mathematics and Math in Real Life to put things into context.

Please note that videos from Series I, II, and IIIa are tagged with, and those for Series IIIb and Series IVa are tagged with Since videos have gone through an additional edit in the process of putting this site together, they may vary slightly from those in the torrents.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Free two hour math class on January 19 in Vancouver - theme of the day will be to find out why we factor (UPDATE - Class cancelled)

Update: Unfortunately registration for the class was low and the organizers, with my blessing of course, have decided to cancel the class and plan to reschedule it in February or March, possibly during a weekday evening time-slot. We believe that perhaps the class would garner more interest once Trade School Vancouver has a dedicated group of followers. My apologies to the three people who had registered, I will do my best to make sure the class happens on a future date.

I’ll be teaching a two hour class through Trade School Vancouver on Saturday January 19 from 11:00am to 1:00pm at The Network Hub on 422 Richards Street, Vancouver.

The school is set up as a barter system, “pay for class with barter items and services, not money,” and for my class all you need to do is to tell me that you love math. So if you sign up, come up to me and tell me, “I Love Math!”, and I will teach you the reason why we factor and how factoring is relevant in our lives.

Topics covered will include; the Real Number Set, Prime Numbers, Functions, Graphs, Polynomials, Factoring, and Ratios, as well as basic topics requested by students.

In the next week or so I’ll be working on putting together the course material and once completed I’ll provide the information here as well. You can sign up at the Trade School Vancouver site. Bring some paper and a couple of pens, and I’ll do my best to show you the power of mathematics.

The following video explains what Trade School Vancouver is all about. Hope to see you there.