Saturday, 1 June 2013

Ologies of the Month - Mathematics and Computer Technology

This month sees the 101st anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing, the mathematician and code-breaker who formulated the principles of modern computer technology. To celebrate his legacy this month’s Ology will look at maths and includes some notable lgbt mathematicians and modern developments in computer technology made by lgbt engineers.

Mathematics was once part of the science of philosophy, at least for the Ancient Greeks. They invented the word after all - “mathematics” comes from the Greek word for science.

If you can call anyone a pioneer of maths in philosophy then it is Plato. However, Aristotle didn’t agree with most of his ideas and followers of each philosopher fought over the meaning of mathematics for centuries.

The use of mathematics is essential to all of the sciences. It is the way data is verified or records. If Baron Franz Nopcsa wanted to know if a dinosaur bone belonged to a species already known he would have measured it and compared the figures. If Edward Sagarin wanted to determine the chemical make-up of a perfume he would have compared the proportions of each component chemical.

I was never very good at maths. I often joke about preferring algebra because it used letters more than numbers! And when my nephew was young I always insisted he was older than me because his birthday was the month before mine! Both of these point out the joys of logic, another branch of mathematics that is, perhaps, the only thing that makes computers possible. Logic, like mathematics, was once considered part of philosophy. And to prove the illogical nature of my thinking on maths, one of my posts will be entitled “1+1=1”. All will become clear.

The use of mathematics in physics will be dealt with later in the year, but for this month I’ll look at two areas where maths is also useful. With Turing’s work at Bletchley Park as a code-breaker I’ll look at the work of other gay code-breakers who were there in my Heritage Spotlight. After all, breaking codes and ciphers is often a mathematical process. And I’ll have a look at another side-angle to maths with some links to chess.

To end the month I’ll celebrate the 35th anniversary of the first appearance of Gilbert Baker’s Rainbow flag by seeing it enter the record books.

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