Join 3,374 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


...almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.
March 28, 2006 1:32 AM   Subscribe

"...the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is..." "Yes? Yes!?" "...42."
via Dyson, Montgomery, Princeton, a cup of tea - as presented by Seed Magazine.
posted by loquacious (41 comments total)

 
This is really fascinating, if a bit over my head.

Can anyone explain/expand on how the zeta-function, well, functions?

I understand the concept of of the zeros and how they align, but the significance of "the moments of the Riemann zeta function" is still a bit hazy. I understand that the discovery of the third digit is a Big Thing(TM) but is it only important in what it reveals about prime numbers and the difficulty of the process is incidental?
posted by slimepuppy at 2:21 AM on March 28, 2006


The whole point about a Theory fo Everything is that everything not forbidden by the theory is compulsory.

It's my personal belief that the Universe operates with no restrictions of any kind - that is, nothing at all is forbidden - except that anything that happens more than one way at the same place and time kind of cancels out. So I'm happy in a told-you-so stoner-physics kind of way every time somebody finds another connection between prime numbers and the operation of the real world.

I like this article very much. Thanks, loquacious!
posted by flabdablet at 2:32 AM on March 28, 2006


I'm no mathematician, and the physics-mathematics cross-correllations are fascinating - if not to be expected by proper 'heads exercising their observational intuition-glands. And the layman-reading of the Riemann Hypothosis just gibbers my bits, in the best way.

But what really fiddles my banjo is that it's Freeman Dyson and Hugh Montgomery discovering it through a friendly discussion over a cup of tea.

Was Adams a fan of Dyson? Is this yet another case like William Burrough's meme of 23 (also prime, heh.) being pre-propagated on through Robert Anton Wilson and so many others?

Or just coincidence? Or is there no such thing as a coincidence, and our universe really is out to drive us all mad.

Diversions for the critically paranoid coincidence seeker: Note that "23" link leading to everything2.com, above. Note the inclusion of the primes 17 and 23 in the Seed Magazine article. What prime does Jet-Poop use as a further example? 17. Also my birthday, and both are "favored" numbers for me from a young, young age. Go figure. I think I'm going to go lay down and attempt sleep before I look for any other such details, or my head bursts into flames, or both.
posted by loquacious at 3:07 AM on March 28, 2006


It's my personal belief that...

Well, that proves it!

And 42 is not a prime.
posted by spazzm at 3:14 AM on March 28, 2006


Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that it was.

I was just drawing the correlation between the 23-meme and the 42-meme, the possibility of similar propagation vectors and how they're now both related to primes, if by a circuitous route.
posted by loquacious at 3:21 AM on March 28, 2006


So anyone up for attempting to explain the zeta function and what the zeros are, why it took so long to guess the third number in the series (1,2, maybe 42..., and this takes 150 years to figure out) when they had a theory for what the sequence is, and otherwise just explain the universe to us? Kudos for anyone making a stab at such a thorny one.
posted by Gratishades at 3:32 AM on March 28, 2006


I have discovered a truly remarkable post, which this margin is too small to contain.
posted by fandango_matt at 3:35 AM on March 28, 2006


Everything2.com on the Riemann zeta function.

Wikipedia on the Riemann zeta function.

Everything2.com on the Riemann Hypothosis. The second article by jmc briefly touches on the importance of the non-trivial zeros in slightly plain language. Wikipedia's entry on the importance of zeros just hurts my tiny, feeble head.

As for what they are, I suspect if someone can answer that correctly then the Riemann Hypothosis would be proven, or closer to proven - true or false I cannot say.
posted by loquacious at 3:50 AM on March 28, 2006


Oh, and as far as explaining the universe? Just eat the fairy cake. It's tasty.
posted by loquacious at 3:53 AM on March 28, 2006


"Argand planes", "possibly trancendental number"... couldn't imagine being able to use these in a sentance without quotation marks. Thanks for links loquacious but think that 'til I bake some extra-special fairy cake there's no way I'm going to convince myself I understand it. Interesting link. You think that many readers won't get the Douglas Adams reference in the link or are would you suppose a high correlation to those that would read math related posts going to have a significant relationship to being fans of HHGTTG?)
posted by Gratishades at 4:05 AM on March 28, 2006


And 42 is not a prime.

Well, 42 is the product of three prime numbers: 2 * 3 * 7 = 42.

So it is a bit primish, isn't it? MetaPrime, so to say.
posted by sour cream at 4:09 AM on March 28, 2006


Any non prime number can be described as the product of *x* number of primes. The fact that 42 is a product of primes does not make it particularly unique.
posted by antifuse at 4:24 AM on March 28, 2006


Way cool article loquacious. Marcus du Sautoy has a delightful way of communicating the impossible (for me) to understand. I love it when scientists are amicably articulate, creating word picture metaphors of complex theories. Math Cats is about my level of understanding.

Asymmetrically symmetrical Sri Yantra's number is 43.
posted by nickyskye at 4:41 AM on March 28, 2006


Cicadas use primes to reproduce cyclically with no common denominators and minimize overlapping with predator reproductive cycles. That's good enough for me.
posted by meehawl at 5:28 AM on March 28, 2006


Is this yet another case like William Burrough's meme of 23?

No, it is a manifestation of the Law of Fives.

The Law of Fives is summarized on page 00016 of the Principia Discordia:

The Law of Fives states simply that: ALL THINGS HAPPEN IN FIVES, OR ARE DIVISIBLE BY OR ARE MULTIPLES OF FIVE, OR ARE SOMEHOW DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY APPROPRIATE TO 5.

The Law of Fives is never wrong. It is worth noting that the Law of Fives includes the word "Five" five times.
And that the 2 and the 3 in 23 add up to 5.

The whole trick seems to be how to know when a "co-incidence" is valid, as the one in the FPP seems to be, or when it is just an interesting similarity. Mathematics seems particularly useful for answering this question.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 5:37 AM on March 28, 2006


Not enough! Not enough! Not nearly enough.

I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to note “page 3 of 3” at the end of what should have been the introduction.

Thanks for this, loquacious.
posted by dreamsign at 6:05 AM on March 28, 2006


There's a lot about mapping the ZF on MathWorld. Mathematica does print out very nice graphs of this function. You can also see how the non-trivial zeroes line up.

This is the second time in a week I've see a post on MeFi extolling the virtues of polar complex coordinates. Quite a trend!
posted by meehawl at 6:13 AM on March 28, 2006


Wow, that was incredibly light on details.
posted by delmoi at 6:45 AM on March 28, 2006


antifuse writes 'does not make it particularly unique'

Unique is an absolute concept. "Particularly unique" is like saying "especially pregnant".
posted by signal at 7:07 AM on March 28, 2006


Hypothesis, as in hypo- and thesis.
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:09 AM on March 28, 2006


Wow, that was incredibly light on details.

Yeah, because if it's even vaguely comprehensible to nonspecialists, it's not worth posting. Come on, now. This is not Acta Mathematica, it's MetaFilter. People can ask for further details, as they have, but the fact is that further details are pretty much gibberish unless you're used to dealing with sentences like "the zeta-function can be extended by analytic continuation in a unique way to a meromorphic function ζ(s) defined for all complex numbers s with s ≠ 1."

Intriguing post; thanks, loquacious!
posted by languagehat at 9:03 AM on March 28, 2006


Fandango_matt - thanks for the giggle.
posted by AuntLisa at 9:04 AM on March 28, 2006


"Particularly unique" is like saying "especially pregnant".

And? People say both ("You look especially pregnant today, dear"), and everybody knows what they mean, and there's no problem except that some logic-addled folks insist on repeating the adages about how you can't qualify certain adjectives. You can; people do; get over it.
posted by languagehat at 9:05 AM on March 28, 2006


4 8 15 16 23 42
posted by chococat at 9:20 AM on March 28, 2006


Yeah, because if it's even vaguely comprehensible to nonspecialists, it's not worth posting.

That's ridiculous. It's always possible to explain mathematical concepts correctly to laymen if you understand them.
posted by delmoi at 9:26 AM on March 28, 2006


Music of the Primes was one of my christmas presents from my girlfriend. I haven't had time to really dig into it yet, but this article seems to be a teaser for the book.
posted by sp dinsmoor at 9:45 AM on March 28, 2006


That's ridiculous. It's always possible to explain mathematical concepts correctly to laymen if you understand them.

No, that's ridiculous. I was a math major; I've tried to explain, say, algebraic topology to laymen and gotten glazed looks within two minutes. Sure, you can explain the concepts if you have their full attention and they're going to be graded on their understanding, but then it's not a conversation but a class, and they're not "laymen," they're students.

But go ahead and explain zeta functions in comprehensible terms for the folks who are asking. I'm not saying it can't be done, and I'd like to see the explanation. But don't just jump in with a pointless snark and expect not to be called on it.
posted by languagehat at 9:49 AM on March 28, 2006


Prime Obsession was a great read and explains the Zeta function well. My 90-year-old grandmother (for whom English is a second language) grokked the parts she read.
posted by jewzilla at 9:53 AM on March 28, 2006


that was incredibly light on details

Well, yes, that's what makes it like an introduction -- which is what I intend to treat it as (and go find more). But it's an article, not an academic paper.
posted by dreamsign at 10:52 AM on March 28, 2006


Loved the article, although I'll admit it left me wanting more of an explanation of how the numbers in the moments of the Riemann Zeta function relate to the actual Zeta function. Thanks for the link, loquacious!
posted by ooga_booga at 11:49 AM on March 28, 2006


Zetafilter. Now, just for clarity, should we be saying zayta, zehta or zeeta?
posted by emelenjr at 12:08 PM on March 28, 2006


Back in the old days, before Larry King had a TV show, he hosted a radio talk show from midnight until 5 am. There were regular callers, one of which was "the numbers man", coined by Larry King himself. This man was able to "prove" the existance of God using the previous day's baseball scores and statistics. Larry would always let the man go on for some time before cutting him off, which he did quickly if a caller made no sense or had no entertainment value. To Larry...and to me..."the numbers man" made sense and was ridiculous at the same time.

I find myself frequently looking at a digital clock at the time 11:11. Is there meaning in this? I have 20 bucks says many of you have this same experience.

Great post. Thank you, sir.
posted by sluglicker at 12:17 PM on March 28, 2006


Sluglicker, an ex-coworker of mine was obsessed with repeating digits when looking at the time. He would constantly recount the times he had woken up in the night and the time had been 05:05 or 23:23 or something along those lines. Same when randomly looking at his watch, it would read 11:11 or some such. Of course, he never recounted the times when this didn't happen...

I'm not sure if he had tried to extract meaning out of all of it, but he was constantly talking about them as though they had some purpose...

This is really a great post.
posted by slimepuppy at 12:41 PM on March 28, 2006


Yeah, because if it's even vaguely comprehensible to nonspecialists, it's not worth posting. Come on, now

I believe delmoi's point, which I agree with, is that there is not much information there at all - even for a non-specialist. What are you left with after reading that? To me it seems not much more than ah vague feeling of "ah. something interesting to do with prime numbers and quantum states was discovered." There are many great science articles written by science writers who can untangle the jargon and convey the discovery with more clarity.
posted by vacapinta at 12:48 PM on March 28, 2006


I'm sorry.
posted by shnoz-gobblin at 1:34 PM on March 28, 2006


Also, I always knew there was more to 0 than just the base for any number system. It's the absence of information that it contains. We can say just what three is. we can measure it precicely. We can't do that to zero.
posted by shnoz-gobblin at 1:40 PM on March 28, 2006


Ahahaha, you bastard! I forgot about that bear.

So, what's your high score?
posted by loquacious at 1:57 PM on March 28, 2006


I was a math major

Crikey, something else LH and I have in common, besides the language jones, the beer, the Asia connection, and the crankiness. I don't wear hats, though.

Nice post, loquacious. I'm gonna tattoo 'The whole point about a Theory of Everything is that everything not forbidden by the theory is compulsory' on the tops of my feet, so I can read it while walking on the beach.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:21 PM on March 28, 2006


Ronnie Lott?

I'm ot surprised at all.
posted by raider at 8:07 PM on March 28, 2006


So did any one open the flower in the upper left?
Phylotaxis is an exploration of the space where science meets culture.

Its structure, derived from the Fibonacci Sequence and closely related to the Golden Ratio, is one of nature's most elegant. The Fibonacci Sequence is the set of numbers where each number is the sum of the previous two numbers. This simple sequence governs phenomena as diverse as the petal arrangement of roses, the breeding patterns of rabbits, and the shape of our galaxy. It is also evident in the design of the Great Pyramids, the composition of the Mona Lisa, and the construction of Stradivarius violins.

Related to the Fibonacci Sequence, Phylotaxis (Phyllos - leaf, Taxis - order) is the study of the ordered position of leaves on a plant stem, and also applies to the shape of pinecones, and the dispersion of seeds on the flat head of a sunflower. Seed has chosen this shape to represent the perfect synthesis of science and culture.
posted by hortense at 9:49 PM on March 28, 2006


hortense: So did any one open the flower in the upper left?
Phylotaxis is an exploration of the space where science meets culture.


Wow! What joy! I hadn't seen that, didn't know the word, what a way to start the day. Thanks! :)
posted by nickyskye at 4:29 AM on March 29, 2006


« Older The oil in your oatmeal is just a bit of The Oil W...  |  Justice Scalia spoke in suppor... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments