Oct 04

Euler and Maxwell tied at 1st place

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 152 views

Euler and Maxwell tied at 1st place
Yes, yes, another Proven by Science story courtesy of BBC news. A mix of equations both mathematical and physical-phenomenal, voted for by Physics World. That list in full.

I’m going to throw in some controversy here and say that I must disagree when the respondents voting for Euler’s equation describe it as “the most profound mathematical statement ever written”; “uncanny and sublime”; “filled with cosmic beauty”; and “mind-blowing”. This is a commonplace view because nobody ever tries to explain what it means. The only place I have seen it properly explained is in the final section of “Where Mathematics Comes From” By Lakoff and Johnson. And it’s a treat!

Once you’ve worked through the concepts, neat though it appears (and neatness is at least close to sublime/beatiful): e + 1 = 0 , is neither profound, uncanny, cosmic nor mind-blowing, but a plain analytic truth. I hear some people spluttering at “plain” – OK, it assumes concepts more complex than those found in “1 + 1 = 2” but it is fundamentally a truth because of what its components mean – what it means to raise one number to the power of another number, what the “transcendental” pi is, what is meant by the imaginary number i, and what it means when they’re combined in that way. If you strongly feel I’m missing something important or profound, or that I’m just being conceited and inflating my own cleverness, then I apologise. But please try to get a look at the book I mention.

On a more convival note, I would have had Newton’s F=ma ranking alongside Einstein’s E=mc2, fo sure, but as in all these “Top N” lists, it’s all about arguing about what’s MISSING from the list. “What about Bragg?!” I hear you cry. And think of all the great publicity for those no longer fashionable equations hanging around at the bottom of the list (Hello “Balmer series”). We can all look forward to the Channel 4 tie-in (over 2 nights next week), where you’ll see one-time editors of Smash Hits say “Boltzmann’s equation!? Madman’s equation I call it! I mean Entropy, what’s that all about?” etc (obv)

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