Monthly Archives: October 2019

Newton and the Declaration of Independence

One of the books that has stuck with me over the years is Carl Becker’s The Declaration of Independence (1922, reprint 1942), not only for its incredibly clear and beautiful writing but also for its emphasis on the impact of the revolution most prominently caused by Isaac Newton, which was later subsumed under the term Scientific Revolution covering the entire 17th century. A consequence of this remarkable period was the so-called Enlightenment that followed in the 18th century and became the soil from which our nation’s founding ideas and documents sprang. Both these centuries have been further optimistically called the Age of Reason.

Our current times, awash in lies, corruption, and such terms as “alternative facts”, have been characterized as an assault on the rationalism and Enlightenment that shaped our founding. Any revisiting of these origins would seem to be a valuable endeavor to see if they still have validity. What makes Becker’s essay particularly relevant to me is the current pervasiveness of the mathematical view of reality that was launched by Newton some 300 years ago. Becker shows how this new way of thinking spread far beyond the bounds of mathematics and engendered a new “natural rights” philosophy that formed the foundation for the Declaration of Independence. Essentially the idea was that if the behavior of the natural world was based on (mathematical) laws, then so must the behavior of man be based on natural laws.

See Newton and Declaration of Independence

(Update 10/31/2019) Steven Strogatz Confirmation. Continue reading

1770 Card Game Problem

This problem from the 1987 Discover magazine’s Brain Bogglers by Michael Stueben apparently traces back to 1770, though the exact reference is not given.

“Here’s an arithmetic problem taken from a textbook published in Germany in 1770. Three people are gambling. In the first game, Player A loses to each of the others as much money as each of them had when the game started. In the next game, B loses to each of the others as much money as each had when that game began. In the third game, A and B each win from C as much money as each had at the start of that game. The players now find that each has the same sum, 24 guineas. How much money did each have when play began?”

See the 1770 Card Game Problem

Mysterious Dopplegänger Problem

I found this problem from the Math Challenges section of the 2002 Pi in the Sky Canadian math magazine for high school students to be truly astonishing.

Problem 4. Inside of the square ABCD, take any point P. Prove that the perpendiculars from A on BP, from B on CP, from C on DP, and from D on AP are concurrent (i.e. they meet at one point).”

How could such a complicated arrangement produce such an amazing result? I didn’t know where to begin to try to prove it. My wandering path to discovery produced one of my most satisfying “aha!” moments.

See the Mysterious Dopplegänger Problem

Update (12/27/2019) I goofed.  I had plotted the original figure incorrectly. (No figure was given in the Pi in the Sky statement of the problem.) Fortunately, the original solution idea still worked.

Pairwise Products

This 2005 four-star problem from Colin Hughes at Maths Challenge is also a bit challenging.

For any set of real numbers, R = {x, y, z}, let sum of pairwise products,
________________S = xy + xz + yz.
Given that x + y + z = 1, prove that S ≤ 1/3.”

Again, I took a different approach from Maths Challenge, whose solution began with an unexplained premise.

See the Pairwise Products