Year: 2018

Is mathematics truly a language?

Is mathematics truly a language?

Mathematics is called the language of science. Italian astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei is attributed with the quote, “Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe.” Most likely this quote is a summary of his statement in Opere Il Saggiatore: [The universe] cannot be read until we have learnt the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word. Yet, is mathematics truly a language, like English or Chinese? To answer the question, it helps to know what language is and how the vocabulary and grammar of mathematics is used to construct sentences. What Is a Language? There are multiple definitions of “language.” A language may be a system of words or codes used within a discipline. Language may refer to a system of communication using symbols or sounds. Linguist Noam Chomsky defines language as a set of sentences constructed using a …

Religion vs Science

Religion vs Science

As the West becomes more and more secular, and the discoveries of evolutionary biology and cosmology shrink the boundaries of faith, the claims that science and religion are compatible grow louder. If you’re a believer who doesn’t want to seem anti-science, what can you do? You must argue that your faith – or any faith – is perfectly compatible with science. And so one sees claim after claim from believers, religious scientists, prestigious science organisations and even atheists asserting not only that science and religion are compatible, but also that they can actually help each other. This claim is called “accommodationism.” But I argue that this is misguided: that science and religion are not only in conflict – even at “war” – but also represent incompatible ways of viewing the world. My argument runs like this. I’ll construe “science” as the set of tools we use to find truth about the universe, with the understanding that these truths are provisional rather than absolute. These tools include observing nature, framing and testing hypotheses, trying your hardest …

Brexit: A Profound level of political stalemate

Brexit: A Profound level of political stalemate

After the collapse of Theresa May’s efforts to push her withdrawal agreement through parliament, and the failed subsequent Conservative Party motion of no-confidence against her, two factors have been fairly well established. There appears to be no withdrawal agreement available that commands a majority in the House of Commons, least of all the current one. And both parliament and the Conservative Party lack the will to oust the prime minister. Not only is opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn reluctant to submit the motion required for parliament to hold a vote of no confidence because he does not think it would pass, but in addition, May is safe from another confidence vote from her party for a full year. In short, Britain is now in a situation where the prime minister is relatively safe in her position but unable to move forward on the most important subject of the day. This is a profound level of political stalemate at a time when some form of forward motion is urgently required. There are no immediate solutions available. The …

Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is quickly becoming an international concern. With 489 people diagnosed with the disease and 280 deaths, it is already the second largest Ebola outbreak in history (although still dwarfed by the 2014 West Africa outbreak). While the DRC has a good track record of responding to these outbreaks, the ongoing military conflict in the country is making the response much more difficult. Healthcare workers have been attacked, vaccination campaigns halted and, most recently, experts from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were recalled from an outbreak zone due to security fears. This is all despite the DRC hosting the UN’s largest peacekeeping force, MONUSCO (Mission de l’Organisation des Nations unies pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo). The United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the body responsible for maintaining international peace and security, acknowledged the situation in the DRC by issuing a resolution (resolution 2439) that calls for an end to the violence so that humanitarian groups can have better access to …

I Am Cait, reigniting the internet debate

I Am Cait, reigniting the internet debate

On July 26, Caitlyn Jenner premiered her new reality show I Am Cait, reigniting the internet debate on the validity of the transgender identity. Which side of the debate one falls on correlates highly with one’s political position. Liberal politicians like President Barack Obama tend to support Jenner and commend her on her courage. On the other hand, conservative politicians like Mike Huckabee have mocked Jenner’s transition, some of them referring to her as mentally ill. Of course, there are exceptions. Some conservatives support transgender individuals – indeed, Jenner herself identifies as a Republican – and some liberals deny that Jenner is a woman. But we think the conservative–liberal divide is prevalent enough to be worthy of attention. Getting the facts straight Those on the left and right seem to believe that they are motivated by a desire to get to the fact of the matter about what constitutes being a man or a woman. That is, they think that they are arguing for an unbiased account about what gender is. One way they do …

The holiness of God

The holiness of God is one of his attributes that carries monumental consequences for every person on earth. In ancient Hebrew, the word translated as “holy” (qodeish) meant “set apart” or “separate from.” God’s absolute moral and ethical purity set him apart from every other being in the universe. The Bible says, “There is no one holy like the Lord.” (1 Samuel 2:2, NIV) The prophet Isaiah saw a vision of God in which seraphim, winged heavenly beings, called to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:3, NIV) The use of “holy” three times stresses God’s unique holiness, but some Bible scholars also believe there is one “holy” for each member of the Trinity: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each Person of the Godhead is equal in holiness to the others. For human beings, holiness generally means obeying God’s law, but for God, the law is not external—it is part of his essence. God is the law. He is incapable of contradicting himself because moral goodness is his very …

How mathematicians still grapple with the issues Einstein confronted

Albert Einstein released his general theory of relativity at the end of 1915. He should have finished it two years earlier. When scholars look at his notebooks from the period, they see the completed equations, minus just a detail or two. “That really should have been the final theory,” said John Norton, an Einstein expert and a historian of science at the University of Pittsburgh. But Einstein made a critical last-second error that set him on an odyssey of doubt and discovery — one that nearly cost him his greatest scientific achievement. The consequences of his decision continue to reverberate in math and physics today. Here’s the error. General relativity was meant to supplant Newtonian gravity. This meant it had to explain all the same physical phenomena Newton’s equations could, plus other phenomena that Newton’s equations couldn’t. Yet in mid-1913, Einstein convinced himself, incorrectly, that his new theory couldn’t account for scenarios where the force of gravity was weak — scenarios that Newtonian gravity handled well. “In retrospect, this is just a bizarre mistake,” said Norton. …

The Third Revolution

“One of the great paradoxes of China today,” writes eminent China scholar Elizabeth C. Economy, “is Xi Jinping’s effort to position himself as a champion of globalization, while at the same time restricting the free flow of capital, information, and goods between China and the rest of the world.” In her new book, The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State, Economy explains that “the ultimate objective of Xi’s revolution is his Chinese Dream—the rejuvenation of the great Chinese nation.” Characterized by “a reassertion of the state in Chinese political and economic life at home, and a more ambitious and expansive role for China abroad,” Xi’s China is exercising “new levers of influence and power that others will have to learn to exploit and counter to protect and advance their own interests,” warns Economy, C. V. Starr senior fellow and director of Asia Studies at CFR. Xi has reversed the thirty years of reform and opening initiated by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s Second Revolution and replaced it with his own Third Revolution, she writes. “What makes Xi’s revolution distinctive is the …

Questions about exploring outer space

Questions about exploring outer space

Metallic shrapnel flying faster than bullets; the Space Shuttle smashed to pieces; astronauts killed or ejected into space. The culprit? Space debris – remnants of a Russian satellite blown up by a Russian missile. The one survivor, Ryan Stone, has to find her way back to Earth with oxygen supplies failing and the nearest viable spacecraft hundreds of miles away. Over on Mars, 20 years in the future, an exploration mission from Earth is going wrong. An epic dust storm forces the crew to abandon the planet, leaving behind an astronaut, Mark Watney, who is presumed dead. He has to figure out how to grow food while awaiting rescue. Hollywood knows how to terrify and inspire us about outer space. Movies like Gravity (2013) and The Martian (2015), present space as hostile and unpredictable – spelling danger for any intrepid human who dares to venture outside Earth’s hospitable confines. This is only part of the story, however – the bit with people centre stage. Sure, no one wants to see astronauts killed or stranded in space. And we all …

Some Eastern European youngsters living in the UK say they feel less welcome since Brexit​

It is hard for me to identify as both British and Romanian because people make me feel as if you can’t be both – as if being foreign is a permanent thing and can’t be changed no matter how long you’ve spent in a country or what you consider to be “home”. I consider the UK to be my home. Like Romanian teenager Ioana, whose words above articulate her painful reality, 15-year-old Alicja moved to Britain from Bulgaria when she was a young child. On the night of the EU referendum, her family gathered around the TV to watch the result. Her mother said she saw it coming; having listened to comments at work about Eastern Europeans taking local jobs in their small fishing town, she realised that anti-immigration feelings were running deep. For Alicja, who had grown up in Scotland, “Brexit had me in tears – it has changed everything”. In the months since, her family’s economic security and plans to stay in the UK are up in the air. They don’t have the …