Scott Aaronson on building a 'PageRank' for (eigen)morality and (eigen)trust - "Now, would those with axes to grind try to subvert such a system the instant it went online? Certainly. For example, I assume that millions of people would rate Conservapedia as a more trustworthy source than Wikipedia—and would rate other people who had done so as, themselves, trustworthy sources, while rating as untrustworthy anyone who called Conservapedia untrustworthy. So there would arise a parallel world of trust and consensus and 'expertise', mutually-reinforcing yet nearly disjoint from the world of the real. But here's the thing: anyone would be able to see, with the click of a mouse, the extent to which this parallel world had diverged from the real one." [more inside]
Computers are providing solutions to math problems that we can't check - "A computer has solved the longstanding Erdős discrepancy problem! Trouble is, we have no idea what it's talking about — because the solution, which is as long as all of Wikipedia's pages combined, is far too voluminous for us puny humans to confirm." (via; previously ;)
Discovering Free Will (Part II, Part III) - a nice discussion of the Conway-Kochen "Free Will Theorem". [more inside]
M.I.T. professor Max Tegmark explores the possibility that math does not just describe the universe, but makes the universe.
"One might think that, once we know something is computable, how efficiently it can be computed is a practical question with little further philosophical importance. In this essay, I offer a detailed case that one would be wrong. In particular, I argue that computational complexity theory---the field that studies the resources (such as time, space, and randomness) needed to solve computational problems---leads to new perspectives on the nature of mathematical knowledge, the strong AI debate, computationalism, the problem of logical omniscience, Hume's problem of induction, Goodman's grue riddle, the foundations of quantum mechanics, economic rationality, closed timelike curves, and several other topics of philosophical interest. I end by discussing aspects of complexity theory itself that could benefit from philosophical analysis."
Using computer systems for doing mathematical proofs - "With the proliferation of computer-assisted proofs that are all but impossible to check by hand, Hales thinks computers must become the judge." [more inside]
The Nature of Computation - Intellects Vast and Warm and Sympathetic: "I hand you a network or graph, and ask whether there is a path through the network that crosses each edge exactly once, returning to its starting point. (That is, I ask whether there is a 'Eulerian' cycle.) Then I hand you another network, and ask whether there is a path which visits each node exactly once. (That is, I ask whether there is a 'Hamiltonian' cycle.) How hard is it to answer me?" (via) [more inside]
Morton and Vicary on the Categorified Heisenberg Algebra - "In quantum mechanics, position times momentum does not equal momentum times position! This sounds weird, but it's connected to a very simple fact. Suppose you have a box with some balls in it, and you have the magical ability to create and annihilate balls. Then there's one more way to create a ball and then annihilate one, than to annihilate one and then create one. Huh? Yes: if there are, say, 3 balls in the box to start with, there are 4 balls you can choose to annihilate after you've created one but only 3 before you create one..." [more inside]
What is it like to have an understanding of very advanced mathematics? A naive Quora question gets a remarkably long, thorough answer from an anonymous respondent. The answer cites, among many other things, Tim Gowers's influential essay "The Two Cultures of Mathematics," about the tension between problem-solving and theory-building. Related: Terry Tao asks "Does one have to be a genius to do maths?" (Spoiler: he says no.)
"Perhaps twenty or thirty people in England may be expected to read this book." G.H. Hardy's review of Whitehead and Russell's Principia Mathematica, published in the Times Literary Supplement 100 years ago last week. "The time has passed when a philosopher can afford to be ignorant of mathematics, and a little perseverance will be well rewarded. It will be something to learn how many of the spectres that have haunted philosophers modern mathematics has finally laid to rest."
Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid has been recorded as a series of video lectures for MIT's Open Courseware project.
Correlative Analytics -- or as O'Reilly might term the Social Graph -- sort of mirrors the debate on 'brute force' algorithmic proofs (that are "true for no reason," cf.) in which "computers can extract patterns in this ocean of data that no human could ever possibly detect. These patterns are correlations. They may or may not be causative, but we can learn new things. Therefore they accomplish what science does, although not in the traditional manner... In this part of science, we may get answers that work, but which we don't understand. Is this partial understanding? Or a different kind of understanding?" Of course, say some in the scientific community: hogwash; it's just a fabrication of scientifically/statistically illiterate pundits, like whilst new techniques in data analysis are being developed to help keep ahead of the deluge...
Dr James Anderson, from the University of Reading's computer science department, claims to have defined what it means to divide by zero. It's so simple, he claims, that he's even taught it to high school students [via Digg]. You just have to work with a new number he calls Nullity (RealPlayer video). According to Anderson's site The Book of Paragon, the creation, innovation, or discovery of nullity is a step toward describing a "perspective simplex, or perspex [ . . . ] a simple physical thing that is both a mind and a body." Anderson claims that Nullity permits the definition of transreal arithmetic (pdf), a "total arithmetic . . . with no arithmetical exceptions," thus removing what the fictional dialogue No Zombies, Only Feelies? identifies as the "homunculus problem" in mathematics: the need for human intervention to sort out "corner cases" which are not defined.
Gödel and the Nature of Mathematical Truth : A Talk with Verena Huber-Dyson
Godel's theorems have been used to extrapolate a great many "truths" about the world. Torkel Franzen sets the record straight in his new book Godel's Theorem: An Incomplete Guide to Its Use and Abuse. Read the introduction (PDF). If you want, check out his explanation of the theorems.
Crispin Sartwell is a cryptic and sensational man. The Chair of Humanities and Sciences at the Maryland Institute College of Art, he has translated the Tao Te Ching, published philosophy papers and books, maintained pages on hip hop, founded the American Nihilist Party (and gave a speech to young Democrats urging them to reconsider their votes for John Kerry), taught courses on conjuring and illusion, etc. etc. See also his essay on the pagan cult of mathematics and his thought experiment on music.
Mathematical beauty in science (NYTimes) Though I can't say I've seen a moment of God's glory in finding a balanced checkbook (on the first go), I have been in academia in physics and math enough to know the almost mystical pleasure its practitioners get from the "unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics", and the simplicity and elegance of the equations at its core. I was wondering -- are there other fields where this occurs, where people get the feeling they've tapped into some bare beauty of nature? Philosophy? Art? Architecture?
Laws of Form In 1969, George Spencer-Brown published a mathematical book called Laws of Form, which has inspired explorations in philosophy, cybernetics, art, spirituality, and computation. The work is powerful and has established a passionate following as well as harsh critics. This web site explores these people, their ideas and history, and provides references for further exploration. I read this then, didn't understand much of the math due to my innumeracy, but was struck by a passage in passing... I especially am curious to see what the numerate in MetaFilter have to say.