Archive for the ‘Health’ Category.

Which one is better? Please answer this poll

I recently read the autobiography [1] of the great mathematician André Weil and came across the following comment (slightly abridged):

 

Any mathematician worthy of the name has known such states of lucid exaltation, when ideas magically fall into place. Poincaré, in a famous passage, described how he experienced such a moment when he discovered fuchsian functions. Of these states, Gauss reportedly said procreare jucundum (to procreate is a pleasure), while adding: sed parturire molestum (but giving birth is a pain). Unlike sexual pleasure, this one can last hours or even days. Whoever has experienced it wants to renew it, but is impotent to provoke it, except at best through obstinate work, of which it then appears as the reward.

 

This penetrating observation (if I may use the expression) brings a new perspective to the 18th-century French song famously revived by Joan Baez:

 

“The joy of love lasts but an instant”, it says,  “the pain of love lasts a lifetime” (plaisir d’amour ne dure qu’un moment, chagrin d’amour dure toute la vie). Clearly, the second part of the verse contains an error: “chagrin d’amour” (the pain of love) must have been a transcription mistake for “comprendre la démonstration par Paul Cohen de l’indépendance de l’hypothèse du continu” (understanding Paul Cohen’s proof of the independence of the continuum hypothesis, which unlike most pains of love does take a lifetime, or two). It is not hard how the confusion could have arisen, as both sound French.

Still, Weil’s observation, if true, is worrying. As everyone can witness almost daily, mathematical ability in humankind is progressing by leaps and bounds. Does this trend portend bad news (echoes of Tolstoi’s Kreutzer Sonata) for our collective reproductive future?

A grave question indeed. To help address it, I have started a scientific poll, which you will find here. The question it asks is of the utmost importance: do you prefer sex or math? To preserve the integrity of the study, please note that by answering the poll you are declaring that you have engaged in both sex and math, although not necessarily at the same time.

As soon as I get the research grant for which I have applied, I will submit the results to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Reference

[1] André Weil, Souvenirs d’Apprentissage, Birkhäuser, Boston, 1991. English translation: The Apprenticeship of a Mathematician, Springer, 1992.

 

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How to protect from the coronavirus

In the current state of the pandemic and for many more months until a vaccine is found, there is exactly one way to fight the coronavirus, protecting yourself and protecting others.

It is not a mask.

It is two masks. You wear a mask, I wear a mask.

Many people still believe that they can only get the virus if an infected person coughs or sneezes on them. This is a tragic myth. Droplets are carried by breath in conversation, by food particles from someone eating near you, or simply by air flowing your way.

Anyone today who goes out without wearing a mask is irresponsible (or suicidal, but that is not an excuse, since he harms others too). Your mask is not enough, though. I must wear one too.

Then we are safe from each other. Remember: we do not have definitive figures, but at least one carrier in five is asymptomatic.

Everything else (and I am not even considering quack solutions and unproven treatments) is pointless. Disinfectant (or better soap) helps, but as a complement. Gloves help medical professionals, who know how to use them properly, but for the general public they can do more harm than good: look at people in shops, once they have gloves they touch everything, moving the virus everywhere. Testing will be critical, of course, but here is another sobering statistics: while there are no false positives (if you test positive, you are infected), around 20% of negative tests are wrong (people have the virus, and it is not detected).

I know: in many places, including some the most technologically advanced nations on earth, there are no masks to be found. This may be the greatest scandal of the modern era. But in the meantime makeshift masks are an acceptable palliative. There are guides all over the web as to how to make them, and if nothing else is available a tightly bound scarf or equivalent, cleaned thoroughly and regularly, will do.

Wear a mask and tell others to do the same.

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