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"Mathematics" Sort by
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Writing itself is 5,000 years old, and for most of that time words were written by hand using a variety of tools. The Romans were able to run an empire thanks to documents written on papyrus. Scroll books could be made quite cheaply and, as a result, ancient Rome had a thriving written culture. With the fall of the Roman Empire, papyrus became more difficult to obtain. Europeans were forced to turn to a much more expensive surface on which to write: Parchment. Medieval handwritten books could cost as much as a house, they also represent a limitation on literacy and scholarship.
No such limitations were felt in China, where paper had been invented in the second century. Paper was the foundation of Chinese culture and power, and for centuries how to make it was kept secret. When the secret was out, paper mills soon sprang up across central Asia. The result was an intellectual flourishing known as the Islamic Golden Age. Muslim scholars made discoveries in biology, geology, astronomy and mathematics. By contrast, Europe was an intellectual backwater.
That changed with Gutenberg’s development of movable type printing. The letters of the Latin alphabet have very simple block-like shapes, which made it relatively simple to turn them into type pieces. When printers tried to use movable type to print Arabic texts, they found themselves hampered by the cursive nature of Arabic writing. The success of movable type printing in Europe led to a thousand-fold increase in the availability of information, which produced an explosion of ideas that led directly to the European Scientific Revolution and the Industrial Revolution that followed.
The Secret History of Writing
The Joy of Winning
Dr. Hannah Fry takes us on a whistle-stop tour around the mathematics of success, to help us understand how to get more of what we want in our own lives. From the best way to bag a budget dinner or keep the kids quiet, to averting nuclear Armageddon and negotiating global climate change agreements.
Prediction By The Numbers
Predictions underlie nearly every aspect of our lives, from sports, politics, and medical decisions to the morning commute. With the explosion of digital technology, the internet, and 'big data,' the science of forecasting is flourishing. But why do some predictions succeed spectacularly while others fail abysmally? And how can we find meaningful patterns amidst chaos and uncertainty? From the glitz of casinos and TV game shows to the life-and-death stakes of storm forecasts and the flaws of opinion polls that can swing an election, 'Prediction by the Numbers' explores stories of statistics in action. Yet advances in machine learning and big data models that increasingly rule our lives are also posing big, disturbing questions. How much should we trust predictions made by algorithms when we don't understand how they arrive at them? And how far ahead can we really forecast?
Numbers as God
Mathematician Dr Hannah Fry explores the mystery of maths. It underpins so much of our modern world that it's hard to imagine life without its technological advances, but where exactly does maths come from? Is it invented like a language or is it something discovered and part of the fabric of the universe? It's a question that some of the most eminent mathematical minds have been wrestling with. To investigate this question, Hannah goes head first down the fastest zip wire in the world to learn more about Newton's law of gravity, she paraglides to understand where the theory of maths and its practice application collide, and she travels to infinity and beyond to discover that some infinities are bigger than others.
In this episode, Hannah goes back to the time of the ancient Greeks to find out why they were so fascinated by the connection between beautiful music and maths. The patterns our ancestors found in music are all around us, from the way a sunflower stores its seeds to the number of petals in a flower. Even the shapes of some of the smallest structures in nature, such as viruses, seem to follow the rules of maths. All strong evidence for maths being discovered. But there are those who claim maths is all in our heads and something we invented. To find out if this is true, Hannah has her brain scanned. It turns out there is a place in all our brains where we do maths, but that doesn't prove its invented.
Experiments with infants, who have never had a maths lesson in their lives, suggests we all come hardwired to do maths. Far from being a creation of the human mind, this is evidence for maths being something we discover. Then along comes the invention of zero to help make counting more convenient and the creation of imaginary numbers, and the balance is tilted in the direction of maths being something we invented. The question of whether maths is invented or discovered just got a whole lot more difficult to answer
Dr Hannah Fry travels down the fastest zip wire in the world to learn more about Newton's ideas on gravity. His discoveries revealed the movement of the planets was regular and predictable. James Clerk Maxwell unified the ideas of electricity and magnetism, and explained what light was. As if that wasn't enough, he also predicted the existence of radio waves. His tools of the trade were nothing more than pure mathematics. All strong evidence for maths being discovered.
But in the 19th century, maths is turned on its head when new types of geometry are invented. No longer is the kind of geometry we learned in school the final say on the subject. If maths is more like a game, albeit a complicated one, where we can change the rules, surely this points to maths being something we invent - a product of the human mind. To try and answer this question, Hannah travels to Halle in Germany on the trail of perhaps one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century, Georg Cantor. He showed that infinity, far from being infinitely big, actually comes in different sizes, some bigger than others. This increasingly weird world is feeling more and more like something we've invented. But if that's the case, why is maths so uncannily good at predicting the world around us? Invented or discovered, this question just got a lot harder to answer.
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