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Weird Mathematics January 30, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.

mallett   Today I encountered two interesting stories about weird mathematics and one that happened to me.

As I was catching up on podcasts in the car, one of my regular shows, AstronomyCast with Pamela Gay and Fraser Cain, discussed black holes and the breakdown of mathematics at the extreme edge of the physical universe. As a person travels toward a black hole and increases their speed to almost light speed ( c ) time appears to stop for the observer. Forget about the spaghettification of the human body. Their point was that advanced mathematics is unable to answer certain questions about black holes because there are some features that “mathematics doesn’t get” about physics.

On another podcast, This American Life, one of the topics was about a man, Dr. Ronald Mallett [pictured], who spent his life since the age of eleven trying to build a time machine. He focused for years on many elements of advanced mathematical theory as well as theoretical physics including quantum mechanics and eventually became a tenured professor of physics. All the while he worked on the fringes of accepted science in a quest to build a time machine. His simple goal was to return to the past to warn his father to take better care of his health. Mathematics wasn’t up to the task of time travel but Mallett made it bend to his ambition.

Then my own mathematics/time travel story. My daughter came into the kitchen after dinner sporting a very grown up hair style. My wife and I told her how cute it was and, with a demi-curtsey and a little flip of her hand, she tossed us a smile and skipped out of the room. In one brief moment, my daughter aged five years and, in the same moment, in a bizarre twist of time, I aged ten.

The arithmetic does not work out, but fathers with eleven years old daughters who are going on sixteen, know that there are some things that mathematics just doesn’t get. This was one of them.



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