July 21, 2009

Random Thought: Is the equal sign ruining our science curriculum

(This is the unfinished post - some day I'll get back to it)
1...2...3...4, 4 sheep, mwa-hahaha! We all remember the Count from Sesame Street. From him, many of us learned the set of natural numbers up to about 12. From there, we entered the public education system. Around about 2nd or 3rd grade we learned that numbers go higher than 20. Soon after, we learned about more integers, including negative numbers, and so on, being introduced to rational numbers as we learned about division and complex operations such as square roots (or, if you were really lucky to have a good schooling, logarithms). Perhaps you were even introduced to different base numbering systems. In all of this, we were conditioned that the right way to count things was to use integers and rational numbers. And we learned mathematical operations using the = sign to denote equivalency.

But, does the universe really work like that? Are we spending any time on mathematics as it applies to irrational numbers, and should we? (As an aside, I also hate writing with questions that I don't intend to answer - but it's the easiest way to throw down thoughts.)

I've been giving thought lately, probably due to some of my recent reading (The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow) and some of my work over the past year with basic statistics and metrics, to how the world is put together and operates. I've always been peripherally interested in the sciences (specifically physics but with chemical and electro-mechanical applications), and of course the debate over universal law. The thought here is that the world doesn't really operate using rational numbers at all.

Think about it, Pi isn't rational. We use pi in engineering to calculate structural ratios, but we don't really use the whole thing because after a while, an approximation is close enough for us.