A strangely fascinating website

genealogy_skeletonThe Mathematics Genealogy Project is a vast family tree connecting mathematicians to their dissertation advisors, going back in some lines to the 15th century.   It can be a compelling toy- after I mentioned Georg Christoph Lichtenberg in a post Thursday, I looked up a math professor who works across the street from me and traced his lineage back to Lichtenberg.  That’s pretty easy to do- of about 130,000 mathematicians indexed, 23,522 are descendants of one or the other of Lichtenberg’s two advisees, Heinrich Brandes and Bernhard Thibault.  So you have about a 1/5 chance that any living mathematician you choose will be a descendant of Lichtenberg.  

I don’t know anything about how mathematics works as a field, but I do know enough of certain other fields to say that a reference tool like this would be of great value to them.  For example, the research careers of most classical scholars are largely defined by their dissertations, so it would be natural to sort classicists into families defined by dissertation advisor.  Efforts have been made to copy the Mathematics Genealogy Project in some other fields; here for example is “The Philosophy Family Tree.”

What is my body?

Body Swappers at Work

Body Swappers at Work

Body Swappers at Work

Body Swappers at Work

My favorite 18th century philosopher, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, defined his body as “That part of the world which I can change simply by thinking about it.”  Now experiments are underway to test this insight and replace it with a body of scientific laws.  Here is a paper about the results of one such experiment.  Thanks to BoingBoing for the link.

Science and Buddhism

Heracles/ Vajrapani as the protector of the Buddha; a Greco-Buddhist relief from Gandhara

Heracles/ Vajrapani as the protector of the Buddha; a Greco-Buddhist relief from Gandhara


Via 3quarksdaily, a report on relations between some Buddhists and some scientists:

The Dalai Lama is keen for Buddhists and scientists to interact.

In the troubled relationship between science and religion, Buddhism represents something of a singularity, in which the usual rules do not apply. Sharing quests for the big truths about the Universe and the human condition, science and Buddhism seem strangely compatible. At a fundamental level they are not quite aligned, as both these books make clear. But they can talk to each other without the whiff of intellectual or spiritual insult that haunts scientific engagement with other faiths.

The disciplines are compatible for two reasons. First, to a large degree, Buddhism is a study in human development. Unencumbered by a creator deity, it embraces empirical investigation rather than blind faith. Thus it sings from the same hymn-sheet as science. Second, it has in one of its figureheads an energetic champion of science. The current Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetans, has met regularly with many prominent researchers during the past three decades. He has even written his own book on the interaction between science and Buddhism (The Universe in a Single Atom; Little, Brown; 2006). His motivation is clear from the prologue of that book, which Donald Lopez cites in his latest work Buddhism and Science: for the alleviation of human suffering, we need both science and spirituality.


When Language Ceases To Have Meaning

I’ve decided to post a translation I did.  It consists of three paragraphs from an editorial in a Yemeni newspaper.  It does not make sense, on the whole.  This translation probably represents about a quarter of the original article.  I’m beginning to develop a theory that translation is impossible between certain languages.  For example:  Arabic to English.  I attribute this to two reasons:

(1)The dictionary meanings of words do not convey how a given word is truly used in a context.  There tends to be some subtlety of meaning, some particular requirement of how a word should be used, which the dictionary just cannot explain.

(2)Writers of different languages not only use entirely different sets of conventions but employ completely different textures of expression.  Arabic seems to have the ability to pile clause upon clause in run-on, nay “runaway” sentences which English could never replicate without severely violating some of its most cherished constitutional pillars…and we’re sure not abrogating those after more than 200 years! 

[Intro / Summary]

The people who are debating [the disputants] about the political rights of women consider that the most [an end-point] that can be arrived at [of what it is possible that he / it ?? arrives at] is the opening [the horizon] of a standing dialogue between the political decision-makers.  This would be in conformity to [it is agreement about] the relative shaping of the existing female scope in situations of authority and [strength of work ??].  [This is] in accordance with what they [??] view as a transformation in a direction of [availability] of new [growth] pertaining to female bearing, as long as they [had proceeded] within the narrowest margins of their political program.


“The Disconcerting Impetuosity in the Direction of Women”

In the shadow of the debate like this or the horizon like that, which they’re sketching for the future of women, the most remote thing that can be predicted at the present time is the disconcerting impetuosity which forces some of the nationally politically strong into riding the wave of keeping away from the animosity about the general direction.  It is a fact that it is necessary to have in mind its [cautions] before the declaration of any document of national work which Yemeni parties and arrangements obtain access to.


[Skip SIX PARAGRAPHS; last paragraph:]

What we hope for is a detailed, logical reading of the Yemeni reality, from whose horizons spring forth clear political visions.  It is defined by its reason better […] political strengthening for the woman, by which it makes her with good thought of the leadership of the brother and president Ali Abdullah Salih who […] its great trust in its expansive and humanistic stage.