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3 June 2008 / April

Time and GEB and…

What began as me giving a practice presentation on Gödel’s incompleteness theorem to my mom developed into an hour-long discussion on number theory, the Goldbach conjecture, truth, time, special relativity, 1984, the Aeneid, quantum mechanics, Bach, canons, isomorphism……  It was pretty fantastic.

I also feel a lot more confident about my ability to explain these things to my class now that I’ve succeeded in explaining them to my mother, who while incredibly intelligent (or because she’s incredibly intelligent) does not let anything remain unexplained.  She let me talk for about 10 minutes before she finally asked what number theory was.  And I couldn’t explain it.  It’s the kind of thing I assume everyone kind of knows about, so I don’t have to define it.  But I guess I do.  Hm.

I don’t think my presentation is going to be tooo bad– because I know I’m going to be sufficiently enthusiastic– but my fear is that people will be bored.  Because this is such pure mathematics (despite the implications!) and you really need to be interested in such esoteric stuff to enjoy it.  Also because I’m going to be just lecturing and not doing a rap or showing a movie or anything cool like that.

… Seriously, the rap in today’s presentation made my day.

Actually, I want to go back to the issue of time for a bit here, which came up because (a) my mom just finished Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos, and (b) we had a guest speaker on relativity in Physics today, which I actually found really interesting.  During the course of his lecture– which used transparencies instead of Powerpoint slides, which was almost unbelievable– he made a statement something like, “Time moves so quickly that a small deflection means an object will drop very fast.”

And I almost spoke up.  Because, I mean… what?!  Time moves quickly?! Quickly how?  Quickly with respect to what?  We measure a velocity based on time– there isn’t really motion without time, not that we can envision anyway.  So to talk about how fast time moves makes very little sense.

He undoubtedly was trying to simplify things and make them more intuitive for his high school audience, but the concept of time is so fascinating and mind-bending to think about that I just had to.  Think about it, that is.  I really liked the way he explained relativity in general– it was not a treatment that I was familiar with and it made a lot of sense.

On a kind of irrelevant note: I am making one presentation on Gödel, a second on Escher, and playing a piece by Bach.  GEB again.  … You are probably bored stiff by all this though.


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