Posts Tagged 'Social attitudes'

The Future of Society: Prosperity or Collapse?

The article in this week’s That’s Maths column in the Irish Times ( TM045 ) is about a mathematical model to simulate the future of society.

 Our extravagant lifestyle is draining the Earth’s natural resources. Population is climbing and climate change looms ever larger. Is the collapse of society imminent?

The historical precedents are ominous. Many civilizations have ended abruptly with drastic population reductions and centuries of oblivion. The fall of the Roman, Han, Mayan and Gupta Empires show that advanced and sophisticated civilisations can be fragile and impermanent. There are many causes, but over-consumption of resources and inequalities within society are primary.


Continue reading ‘The Future of Society: Prosperity or Collapse?’

Population Projections

The Population Division of the United Nations marked 31 October 2011 as the “Day of Seven Billion”. While that was a publicity gambit, world population is now above this figure and climbing. The global ecosystem is seriously stressed, and climate change is greatly aggravated by the expanding population. Accurate estimates of growth are essential for assessing our future well-being. This week, That’s Maths in The Irish Times ( TM034  ) is about population growth over this century. Continue reading ‘Population Projections’

The Two Cultures

The Two Cultures

Of course I’ve heard of Beethoven, but who is this guy Gauss?

The “Two Cultures”, introduced by the British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow in an influential Rede Lecture in 1959, are still relevant.

Ludwig von Beethoven and Carl Friedrich Gauss were at the height of their creativity in the early nineteenth century. Beethoven’s music, often of great subtlety and intricacy, is accessible even to those of us with limited knowledge and understanding of it. Gauss, the master of mathematicians, produced results of singular genius, great utility and deep aesthetic appeal. But, although the brilliance and beauty of his work is recognized and admired by experts, it is hidden from most of us, requiring much background knowledge and technical facility for its true appreciation.

There is a stark contrast here. There are many parallels between music and mathematics: both are concerned with structure, symmetry and pattern, but music is accessible to all while maths presents greater obstacles. Perhaps it’s a left versus right brain issue. Music gets into the soul on a high-speed emotional autobahn, while maths has to follow a rational, step-by-step route. Music has instant appeal; maths takes time.

It is regrettable that public attitudes to mathematics are predominantly unsympathetic. The beauty of maths can be difficult to appreciate, and its significance in our lives is often underestimated. But mathematics is an essential thread in the fabric of modern society. We all benefit from the power of maths to model our world and enable technological advances. It is arguable that the work of Gauss has a greater impact on our daily lives than the magnificent creations of Beethoven.

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