The Museum of Mathematics

I have decided to start a Museum of Mathematics for South Africa.

This is a large and long project and I am starting small with a virtual museum and I am acquiring items which demonstrate some element of mathematics and which tell some story and which illustrate some element of mathematics.

At present I do not have a dedicate web site for this, but we are designing one and it should be up soon. At present we are hosting a blog on ETHER at

The Museum of Mathematics, or MUMA, is envisioned as a home of mathematical knowledge, and point of reference for valid and trusted content. It is intended to support everyone interested in mathematics, at all levels, as well as to support those learning mathematics. My initial focus is on school-level mathematics, and especially support for the Senior Phase in Grades 7-9, and the FET Phase for Grades 10-12.

Given that mathematics is an intangible, I am interested in collecting items which do not have a physical counterpart, such as mathematical stories, jokes, and interesting problems, and I am also very interested in building up biographies of mathematicians and their contributions. Whereas there are a few very famous mathematics, such as Archimedes, Pythagoras, and Newton, there are many others who are not as well known, but who have greatly contributed to the development of mathematics over the past 2500 years.

However, here is a question for you, which is quite a difficult question in mathematics…..Did we (humans) create mathematics, or was it there already in the universe before we arrived? And a related question…if there are other intelligences in the universe who have reached a level of knowledge of at least where we are now, would they have had to use the same mathematical systems or are there alternative mathematical realities?



Alien Civilisations and their Libraries

I want to present a simple claim here – that any sufficiently developed alien civilisation will have created a long-term library to hold their knowledge. They will use this library to make this knowledge accessible to their members, and to also educate their members in the usage and benefits of this knowledge.

The assumptions in my claim needs to be explained further. What is “sufficiently developed” and what is “civilisation”?

The term “civilisation” means any group of living entities that have developed the ability to work together and organise themselves for the benefit of the group as a whole, not only for the survival of the individual members. However, this would include ants and bees, which we would not normal consider as civilisations. Such a civlisation would also need to have developed communication capabilities, and a knowledge system which is recorded, and to have used tools outside of themselves to better carry out their goals.

The term “sufficiently developed” would mean that they have a common and shared initiative and vision to preserve their civilisation forever.

It is my argument that such a civilisation will require a means to store their knowledge, and for this the mechanism will be a “library” in any form and stored anywhere that is accessible. This should be accessible as they move from place to place, using any means of transportation, as a common reference to all shared knowledge. Without such access to knowledge no civilisation will be able to advance, since each generation will have to relearn the lessons of the previous generation, and will have no basis on which to pass this knowledge on.

This is a “gedunkan experiment” at this stage (look it up!), and cannot be proved or disproved. But such experiments are useful as a means to see an imaginary future.

My interest, and my most important argument, is that we ourselves, as humanity, should be building these libraries ourselves for a 500 year to 50,000 year to eternal lifetime. If we expect that any sufficiently developed alien civilisation will have one of these, then at some future time we will become that sufficiently developed alien civilisation when we encounter other intelligences. And we had better be ready.

Turing’s Universal Machine: The Top British Invention of Past 100 years

I knew he would do it!

Alan Turing conceived of the “Universal Machine” as a computer which could carry out instructions rather than being designed and built for a special purpose in hardware. This single invention created what we now know as “software”, being the machine design expressed in program code.

This invention has now the award, by public vote, of being the top invention by a British inventor of the past 100 years. In my opinion this perhaps the best invention of all countries on the planet over the past 100 years, and may remain so for at least another 100 years into the future.

You can read more about this on the Great British Innovations Vote Page.

Receiving 24% of the votes, he just edged out the “Mini” car with 23% into second place, X-ray crystallograpy with 13% in third, and the discovery of pulsars with 6% in fourth place.

The Turing Enigma

It is just over 100 years since the birth of Alan Turing, and it is becoming apparent in retrospect how much this man, who died at the age of 42, contributed to our modern world.

Turing is well known to everyone who studies Computer Science, as the person after whom the “Universal Turing Machine” is named, but few realise that he single-handedly created the computer technology we know of today, and created the stored program computer before the Americans created theirs. This fact remained hidden in the UK archives concerning their war-time code-breaking efforts at Bletchley Park and was only made public relatively recently. Turing’s work was featured in the movie “Enigma” which concerned the breaking of the codes of the German Enigma machine, which many believe won the war for the allies.

Turing is also the original creator of artificial intelligence as well as the founder of the original ideas that became neural networks, and it may be that the elements of his PhD thesis are still to be used to create new generations of computing machinery.

We owe a significant amount to Turing and history will reflect his greatness long after the others have come and gone and been forgotten about. It is my prediction that he will be seen in many centuries in the future as one of the top scientists of all time, alongside Archimedes and Netwon.

I recommend a simple start to getting to know about his work better. Check the site, the home of the Turing Archive for the History of Computing, which contains digital reproductions of much of Turing’s work. Another site of interest is the Turing Archive at Cambridge University, where Turing was a Fellow.

If you have the opportunity, also get hold of and read, cover to cover, the recent book “Turing : Pioneer of the Information Age”, by Jack Copeland, the Director of the Turing Archive. This is a good place to start to get to know our past and how we got to this place where digital computing is perhaps the most predominant activity in the whole of modern civilisation, given that all mobile phones, and much modern equipment, contains some computing device at its core.


Where do all the blogs go?

I believe that we all have lots to say, and rather than the medium of formal writing and publishing, it is the blogs which are the new medium for expression. The usage of the English (or other) language remains a requirement for communication independent of the medium, and like all expressions there also remains differentiation between writers in terms of their capacity to use language to convey thoughts and ideas and to allow you, the reader, to build these thoughts and ideas within your own mind.

However, my experience at losing my Drupal site, with the complement of blogs which were there (not many, I will admit), exposes a critical issue of the memory of our generation – where do all the blogs go when they die? How do we recall the literary expressions of our age when these are all in the transient space of ever-restructured web sites in which the older writings are no longer current and are discarded?

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