Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Notes and Links

* Way cool: communication between plants. (ht)

* How does one face Mecca in prayer if you are floating around in space? Muslims have given serious thought to questions like this. This news article gives a few of the rules for being an observant Muslim in orbit.

* An interesting question came up in the comments boxes of Cantànima: Why is St. Hubert the patron saint of mathematicians? It's easy to see why he's the patron saint of hunters, forest rangers, etc., because the Conversion of St. Hubert is a very famous legend. As the Catholic Encyclopedia summarizes it:

On Good Friday morn, when the faithful were crowding the churches, Hubert sallied forth to the chase. As he was pursuing a magnificent stag, the animal turned and, as the pious legend narrates, he was astounded at perceiving a crucifix between its antlers, while he heard a voice saying: "Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord, and leadest an holy life, thou shalt quickly go down into hell". Hubert dismounted, prostrated himself and said, "Lord, what wouldst Thou have me do?" He received the answer, "Go and seek Lambert, and he will instruct you."

As I said, this is a very famous legends, and you can find traces of it all over Europe, sometimes in unexpected places (like the Jägermeister logo; the brand is hunting-themed). But I don't know of any legend or story associating Hubert with mathematics. Does anyone know?

* An interesting weblog concerned with looking sympathetically (from an Orthodox perspective) with John Bekkos: De unione ecclesiarum. (ht)

* Bill Vallicella discusses the Weyl Tile Argument for the conclusion that space is not quantized. It reminds me, interestingly, of problems that early modern empiricists had with combining their rejection of infinite divisibility and their acceptance of mathematics. Hume deals with the problem by denying that geometry is an exact science. Berkeley doesn't, as far as I recall, address the point in any of his published works, but in his early notebooks we find him toying with the idea that the Pythagorean theorem is false; he suggests saving it by regarding it not as a statement of mathematical fact but as a recipe for mathematical construction (to a given, always finite, level of precision).

* The Royal Guardsmen sing Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron. "Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron" was written by Dick Holler, who on a more serious note also wrote Dion's famous civil rights protest song, Abraham, Martin, and John.

* No one can scat like Ella.

* Jonathan Ellis criticizes Bernard Suits's analysis of games (PDF). I think a simpler and more straightforward somewhere is an activity directed towards bringing about a specific state of affairs (arriving at a destination); it is an activity in which we may only use means permitted by rules, namely, traffic law; the rules prohibit more efficient means in favor of less efficient means (e.g., it would be more efficient for the purpose of getting where you are going to ignore traffic lights and to move off-road); and the rules are accepted because they make possible such activity. So when two people agree to meet up at the mall as soon as they can safely and legally get there, they are engaging in an activity that has all the characteristics Suits identifies and yet is not by any stretch of the imagination a game. I do think, though, that Suits is on to something significant (albeit not what he thinks); namely, that the field of games divides into games that are well-defined (meeting Suits's criteria) and games that are ill-defined or ad hoc (such as the silly games Ellis mentions) and the distinction is actually a fairly important one.

* This is utterly deplorable; at least, it is the sort of thing that massively irritates me. What is more, it is a sign of the degenerate nature of a set of social expectations in which we are all continually being made complicit. (ht)

* IQ and heritability at "Three-Toed Sloth".