Walt Pohl's Math FAQ

Last modified: Sun Jul 27 23:43:12 1997

Most people seem to find the notion of

**Answer:** There are plenty of unanswered questions in mathematics. For
example, there are plenty of 11 and 12 digit numbers that no one has
ever added, subtracted, multiplied, or divided. Considering the
increasing importance of truly large numbers in the modern global
economy -- for example, the U.S. Federal debt alone is a 13 digit
number -- there is great need for further research by mathematicians
everywhere. Grant money in the 7 digit range should be adequate for
my own contributions, if you happen to have your checkbook handy.

**Answer:** I'm not an expert in communicating in English (not enough Greek
letters), but I believe that this is not actually a question. But
trust me, mathematics was our least favorite subject in high school
and college too. But it wasn't until graduate school that we learned
exactly how much you can hate a subject, and yet still keep taking
classes in it.

**Answer:** You can remember the digits of Pi by this simple mnemonic: Man I
Need A Drink, Alcoholic Of Course. I'm not going to tell you how you
can use that to figure out the digits of Pi -- if we mathematicians
make it too easy for the rest of you, we'll find ourselves all
unemployed.

**Answer:** Just a couple of years ago, mathematicians would have scratched
their heads at that one. While the great names of mathematics, such
as Gargamel, Rasputin, and Vlad the Impaler, are household names in
those households that happen to have mathematicians in them, they
elicit little name recognition in the public at large. But recently
the efforts of a single mathematician have grabbed hold of the
public imagination, raising the profile of the field to its highest
ever. I refer, of course, the University of California at Berkeley's
own, the Unabomber.

**Answer:** There are a great many discoveries that can be understood by the
average person on the street. For example, did you know that there
are 28 different differentiable structures you can impose on the
7-sphere? More is known than ever before about the higher homotopy
groups of spheres. And did you know that we are close to a complete
classification of the representations of real reductive Lie
groups?

Wait, don't go! Let me try again! Let's take an old discovery, one that most people take for granted, but has had incalculable effect on the modern world -- the humble zero. Without the zero, basic arithmetic would never have been possible. For example, it would probably be impossible for anyone to be an accountant without the zero. Wait, maybe we should be apologizing for that one instead...

**Answer:** No.

**Answer:** Surprisingly, this is not the case. Mathematicians are so bitter
about technological advance encroaching on their traditional preserve
-- really boring calculations -- that they have allowed all of their
conventional arithmetic skills to erode, instead spending their time
thinking up problems that calculators still can't do. For example, I
doubt I could successfully add 17 and 13, but I can tell you off the
top of my head that 2^{10938450938450934852} - 1 is a
multiple of 3.