The evolution of mathematics, from agriculture to quantum mechanics

Why is math the universal language? NASA's Michelle Thaller solves that one.

  • Mathematics has snowballed from counting to 10 on our fingers, to calculus, to abstract concepts like imaginary numbers that move in 11 dimensions and predict particles physics.
  • The math that led us down the rabbit hole of quantum mechanics is bizarre and while we can crunch the numbers, we can't really understand what they mean.
  • If the math confirms that particles can move in 11 dimensions, is that a fundamental truth of the universe?
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Videos

Why non-conformists always end up looking alike

Go ahead, try and be different.

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  • Anti-conformists have an odd way of ending up looking like each other.
  • A Brandeis mathematician looks at how this synchronicity occurs.
  • Understanding the mechanism behind non-conformist conformity has applications in other areas, like the stock market.
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Culture & Religion

Anti-vaccine movement is powered by ‘hysteresis,' study reveals

"History matters, and we now know that hysteresis is part of the answer," wrote the author of a recent study.

Demonstrators carry signs against the use of mercury in vaccines in front of the Department of Health and Human Services building in Washington 20 July 2005. (Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
  • A new study explores society's relatively poor vaccination coverage through the lens of hysteresis, a phenomenon that describes how systems are dependent on their history.
  • The results show how 'imperfect vaccines' and episodes of public confusion can result in sharp drops in population-wide immunization rates, and how it can take years for those rates to recover.
  • By promoting an individual's choice to get vaccinated as an altruistic behavior, societies might be able to reach vaccination goals sooner, the researchers suggested.
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The math problem that could change the world: Does P = NP?

Depending on the answer, one of the famous unsolved Millennium problems could have major implications in our lives.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
  • The Millennium Prize Problems are a set of seven unsolved mathematical problems laid out by the Clay Mathematical Institute, each with a $1 million prize for those who solve them.
  • One of these problems asks whether P = NP. Put simply, this asks whether computationally hard problems actually contain hidden, computationally easy solutions. This, however, is a major simplification.
  • Proving that P does not equal NP would be a major milestone, and it's the result that most computer scientists expect. However, if the opposite is true, then our world would become drastically different than it is now.
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Technology & Innovation

Physicists puzzled by strange numbers that could explain reality

Eight-dimensional octonions may hold the clues to solve fundamental mysteries.

  • Physicists discover complex numbers called octonions that work in 8 dimensions.
  • The numbers have been found linked to fundamental forces of reality.
  • Understanding octonions can lead to a new model of physics.
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Surprising Science