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Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
03-31-2018, 10:29 AM (This post was last modified: 03-31-2018 10:32 AM by pier4r.)
Post: #1
Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
At the last Mathjam in Berlin there was the topic about searching digits of PI or similar quests apparently pointless. For example computing PI, square root of 2, e, biggest prime, etc. Of course the quest can be also theoretical, not only of numerical nature.

I was surprised to see people finding those quests useless, in a mathjam. Well, no lie, I find them also not so useful per se (that is, in the result) in a short term view. Maybe in some 50 years or more they may be useful.
I find them useful for the byproduct results. Happiness through fun (Kraft durch Freude! ah no wait, wrong timing....) , possible spill overs finding better formulas or theories to compute or solve this or that, testing hardware, prestige (ex: "The US has the supercomputer that computed the last record of PI digits under X hours. No one was so fast until now."), a place where to learn more math or programming (ex: "this method approximate this irrational number at a rate of 14 digits per iteration"), be creative representing the results (ex: using the digits of Pi for some sort of nice drawing), the newly idea of cryptocurrencies* (see primecoin), and so on.

What is your view on those topics?

* Cryptocurrencies is a word with such loaded meaning by the average person. Actually for me it seems a word that minimizes the value of the technology. I would better say "shared p2p databases with distributed consensus on the next input to store". That is way more appealing to me.

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03-31-2018, 11:46 AM
Post: #2
RE: Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
(03-31-2018 10:29 AM)pier4r Wrote:  What is your view on those topics?
a) Useful
b) Useless

b)

My background is engineering (now operating the things I once helped to develop). We are paid to get things done in (almost) real time. No time to play around with our tools, in this case mathematics, just use them. And use the best tools available for the job.
And regarding cryptocurrencies: I regard them as one of the most insanely useless things that humanity ever came up with. Mind you, the computers running 24/7 worldwide employed in "mining" Bitcoins consume as much electricity as an average Europen country. There should be laws against that kind of madness and better sooner than later.
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03-31-2018, 12:17 PM
Post: #3
RE: Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
(03-31-2018 10:29 AM)pier4r Wrote:  What is your view on those topics?

When you start a thread you can create a poll – which would be perfect here. Members can vote for one option and you can see the individual percentages and the number of participants.

Here I would vote for "may be useless, but it's fun". ;-) In calculator programming I like this challenge of overcoming the limitations of the machine, or squeezing out two more digits of a result by using a certain feature in a ..."creative way". On the other hand, even if fun is the only benefit: for me this alone would qualify "mathematical activities" as "useful". :-)

Dieter
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03-31-2018, 06:24 PM (This post was last modified: 03-31-2018 06:24 PM by pier4r.)
Post: #4
RE: Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
I like to have answers not a click in a poll, at least sometimes .

Maximilian for the.energy usage , I agree with you. But mining is often wrongly understood (I too I understood it wrongly ). Actually the technology is pretty interesting when not abused . A byproduct, though, is to fix laws about energy consumption that is not that bad .

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03-31-2018, 09:26 PM
Post: #5
RE: Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
As I own a helping school where I teach all kinds of stuff, mostly maths, no mathematical activity can be claimed useless, even the most stupid thing may prove extremely important, you have for example a pupil who has difficulties in understanding fractions, you construct a different approach, he understands it this way and perhaps later starts to study sciences...So I often deal with problems that are not too amusing but I never have stopped looking in different textbooks to broaden my abilities in finding other ways to explain things. I don't know how often I used the golden ratio and then the Fibonacci series to make some more intelligent pupil see the beauty of maths and when there is time I give some riddles "everybody knows" to fascinate them.
For myself I from time to time take a deeper look into one of the more advanced parts of maths, solving complex tasks is a good pastime and keeps the brain fit.
Arno
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04-01-2018, 04:36 AM
Post: #6
RE: Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
Complex numbers is an example of a branch of mathematics initially considered "useless" in terms of practical application.

The Romans valued practicality and considered all mathematical abstraction useless. Commenting on the death of Archimedes at the hands of a Roman soldier as he drew geometrical figures in the dust, English mathematician Alfred North Whitehead wrote "No Roman lost his life because he was absorbed in the contemplation of a mathematical diagram".
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04-01-2018, 06:00 AM
Post: #7
RE: Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
Currently we believe that \(\pi, e \) and \(\sqrt 2\) are normal numbers but have no proof. One of these searches could provide convincing evidence that the current belief is in fact incorrect. This would have deep implications for mathematics.

The largest prime is another matter entirely. Thanks to some old guy named Euclid, we've a proof that there is always another prime. However, if somebody found the largest twin prime, that would be exciting. We have a proof that the reciprocal sum of twin primes is finite but no proof they are. Interesting but it would likely have fewer implications. A proof that there are finitely many primes of the form \(2^n-1\) would also have implications for perfect numbers. All of the largest primes found thus far are of this form.

How many years was it before conic sections were useful? Over 2,000 years. Who can predict what might or might not be useful in the future?


Pauli
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04-01-2018, 09:01 AM
Post: #8
RE: Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
Not all audiences fully appreciate the beauty of mathematics. To me I see only about 15% of the whole population that see this interesting and useful.
Some math stuff look like useless to ready matter in real life but you will never know that when you keep trying maybe someday you get a new theory, new formula, and new way to solve problems.

Gamo
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04-01-2018, 12:29 PM
Post: #9
RE: Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
(04-01-2018 09:01 AM)Gamo Wrote:  Not all audiences fully appreciate the beauty of mathematics. To me I see only about 15% of the whole population that see this interesting and useful.

I would draw a thick line between beauty and usefulness here. I know that mathematics is useful, to a degree at least. But I see no beauty in it. For me some things are beautiful that could not have been made without advanced mathematics - my most striking example being the Concorde. But mathematics in itself is about as beautiful as any other tool, be it a screwdriver or a 6 degrees of freedom milling machine (which requires some medium complex mathematics by itself to work).
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04-01-2018, 12:47 PM
Post: #10
RE: Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
Working on these kinds of problems opens the door to new discoveries in number theory and computer science, so they're very much not useless. Yes, having a few trillion digits of pi is largely pointless, but it's about the journey, not the destination.
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04-01-2018, 01:24 PM
Post: #11
RE: Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
(04-01-2018 12:47 PM)Dave Britten Wrote:  ... opens the door to new discoveries ...

Like Bitcoins without which the criminals of this world would have a harder time transferring their money... Just joking of course, but without Bitcoins this world would be a better place for sure.
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04-01-2018, 01:30 PM
Post: #12
RE: Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
About beauty. I think that we see things beautiful also because we can appreciate them. For me an engine that can last 500000km is beautiful. A robust bike is beautiful. A machine tool is beautiful. A calculator is beautiful and also a lot of formulas or books.

But I don't find beautiful a lot of other things that I am also unable to appreciate.

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04-01-2018, 01:36 PM
Post: #13
RE: Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
(04-01-2018 01:24 PM)Maximilian Hohmann Wrote:  Like Bitcoins without which the criminals of this world would have a harder time transferring their money... Just joking of course, but without Bitcoins this world would be a better place for sure.

But even such debatable developments as Bitcoin have led to some truly significant positive contributions, including dramatic improvements in graphics card capabilities and further refinement and public validation of blockchain, which will have tremendous impact on many industries.

--Bob Prosperi
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04-01-2018, 01:48 PM
Post: #14
RE: Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
(04-01-2018 01:36 PM)rprosperi Wrote:  ... including dramatic improvements in graphics card capabilities ...

Maybe so, but have you tried to buy a state of the art graphics card in these days? They are either unobtainable or carry silly price tags because the whole production goes into those abominable Bitcoin mining farms. I guess we have to wait for the impending Bictoin collapse until we can benefit from fast processors and graphics chips. Not long hopefully.
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04-01-2018, 02:30 PM
Post: #15
RE: Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
(04-01-2018 01:48 PM)Maximilian Hohmann Wrote:  Maybe so, but have you tried to buy a state of the art graphics card in these days? They are either unobtainable or carry silly price tags because the whole production goes into those abominable Bitcoin mining farms. I guess we have to wait for the impending Bictoin collapse until we can benefit from fast processors and graphics chips. Not long hopefully.

I never purchase top-of-the-line graphics cards or CPUs, they are always priced stupidly high for 1%-ers that want that kind of edge for gaming (or more recently, mining), however as the top of the line moves up, all the mid-range move up as well, and typically at the same price points, so this year's mid-range is as much as 75-100% faster than last years, but at the same price. So I get the benefit of those silly top-end components, without buying one. Bottom line is I'm glad all those folks are buying top-end components for mining.

--Bob Prosperi
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04-01-2018, 03:08 PM
Post: #16
RE: Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
Does balancing my checkbook count? *sigh*.

Ever since online banking and having a job where we're not living paycheck-to-paycheck, balancing the checkbook has just become skimming a web page a couple of times a week to be sure things look about right.
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04-01-2018, 03:26 PM
Post: #17
RE: Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
(04-01-2018 03:08 PM)KF6GPE Wrote:  Does balancing my checkbook count?

Unfortunately balancing my checkbook would never have required the kind of mathematics which yields the 1 trillionths digit of pi :-)

But I was born too late for checkbooks anyway. When I started to do paid work in the mid 1980ies, bank transfer was already the established way to pay one's employees in this part of the world. I actually never ever received a paycheck and wrote very few checks myself before they became obsolete some time during the 1990ies.
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04-01-2018, 04:05 PM
Post: #18
RE: Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
some people find smiling useless,
some people find frowning useless.
and so on.
I find their arguments for such a stance interesting
nothing more, nothing less

BEST!
SlideRule
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04-01-2018, 07:25 PM (This post was last modified: 04-01-2018 09:20 PM by pier4r.)
Post: #19
RE: Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
(04-01-2018 01:24 PM)Maximilian Hohmann Wrote:  
(04-01-2018 12:47 PM)Dave Britten Wrote:  ... opens the door to new discoveries ...

Like Bitcoins without which the criminals of this world would have a harder time transferring their money... Just joking of course, but without Bitcoins this world would be a better place for sure.

Disagree. Bitcoin in itself is a technology. Transfers are still done through banks as Bitcoin in itself doesn't carry any dollar or euro.

Now you can argue that guns are also tool but they can be used for bad actions. And I would agree as the primary design for a gun is to kill the others. The primary Design of Bitcoin, or whatever other P2P database with consensus for the next input is not to facilitate the exchange of money for criminals .

You can use a variant of Bitcoin just to store data in a very robust way. Actually you can use it to store Wikipedia around the globe or, once again because tools can be misused, child pornography.

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04-01-2018, 07:29 PM
Post: #20
RE: Do you find some mathematical activities useless?
(04-01-2018 03:26 PM)Maximilian Hohmann Wrote:  
(04-01-2018 03:08 PM)KF6GPE Wrote:  Does balancing my checkbook count?

Unfortunately balancing my checkbook would never have required the kind of mathematics which yields the 1 trillionths digit of pi :-)

Wait a moment. Still today I get the paper from the bank about my withdraws (Kontoauszug) and I do statistics on them to see my spendings behavior.

And the point that the mathematics needed is way simpler is a point for quests using advanced math, or not?

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