Re: Seven Step Series

From: Bruno Marchal <>
Date: Sun, 26 Jul 2009 17:38:08 +0200

On 25 Jul 2009, at 15:35, m.a. wrote:

> One of my fundamental problems evidently has been a
> misconception of the use of exponents (see below in bold).

To be able to recognize a personal misconception is the key of the
learning process.

>> >> if a is a number, usually, a^n is the result of effectuating (a
>> >> times a
>> >> times a time a ... times a), with n occurences of a. For example:
>> >> 2^3 =
>> >> 2x2x2 = 8. I thought 2^3 meant (2*2)* (4*2)* (8*2)= 16

You have some weird thought.

Think about this:

2*3 = 2+2+2
2^3 = 2*2*2

4*5 = 4+4+4+4+4
4^5 = 4*4*4*4*4

Take care:
a*b = b*a (for any a and b)
a^b is different from b^a (in general. For example 5^12 = 2441140625,
but 12^5 = 248832).

(And how could "(2*2)* (4*2)* (8*2)= 16" be true? (2*2)* (4*2)* (8*2)
= 4*8*16 = 32*16, which is 32 times bigger than 16).

>> * >>
>> >> so a^n times a^m is equal to a^(n+m)
>> >>
>> >> This extends to the rational by defining a^(-n) by 1/a^n. In that
>> >> case
>> >> a^(m-n) = a^m/a^n. In particular a^m/a^m = 01 (x/x = 1 always), and
>> >> a^m/a^m = a^(m-m) = a^0. So a^0 = 1. So in particular 2^0 = 1.
>> From the above misconception you can perhaps get an idea of how
>> utterly alien these symbols are to me. I have never run across them
>> before in all my years (and you'd be surprised to learn how many
>> years I'm talking about).

It just means you don't have had to compute in your life (up to now!).
If I enter 999999999999 in my pocket computer (TI Galaxy 67, a very
old one), the machine wrote

1 E 12,

which is its way to tell me the number I enter is about 1 times 10^12.

Note that "a^n" is not the standard notation used by mathematicians,
but it has become standard, we could say, in the electronic mails, or
on some pocket computers. To write "2^7", which I recall is given by
2*2*2*2*2*2*2, they will wrote "2" with "7" as little upper index.
Engineers use often other notations.

>> When you say that I "could have found the mistakes by carefully
>> reread the definitions"

I did not said that. I was really just asking a question. And you
provide me now a very clear answer:

>> it's like saying that given a table of cyrillic letters I should be
>> able to translate a passage of "Crime and Punishment".

So your answer is "no". I could have read the definition ten times, I
could remain wrong, because of the accumulation of seemingly senseless

I have no problem to understand such difficulties. I can be blind
myself on many things, not being able to find my pen on my desk,
although it is in front of my eyes. I tend also to confuse bills and
But those are only handicaps, which, if not too severe, can be
overcome by some amounts of work. Such handicaps could be a reason to
panick the day before the exam, but should not deter someone who
inquires, either for fun or for personal interrogations, in an
environment without deadline or social pression (like here).

>> A concept like a^(-n) = 1/a^n is like having to learn a new
>> polysyllabic word.

Not just that. You have to understand that it is a generalization of
a^n on the integers. You have to learn a new concept. You will not
need to remember all such notions for the "ultimate" understanding of
the seventh step. At some moment I will introduce "many notions" just
with the goal to generalize. The difficulty will be more conceptual
and related to abstraction. I face the problem of either overwhelming
you with too much concrete examples, or abstracting too quickly. No to
people share the same "perfect" pedagogical path, but there is a sort
of least common path, which can take time, but there is no rush.

>> I see it and the next day I've forgotten it.

Such a problem can be overcome by work and organization. I just hope
you have enough fun, and personal curiosity for the result, or some
results on the path. If you forget, I can recall. I really can sum up
each time you want. And I can sum up what we have done, or what we
will do (it is good to remember the real goal: to understand the UDA
"reversal", and its "constructive" aspect). The math is needed just
for grasping what a universal dovetailer is, and why both the UD and
its universal dovetailing are "existing" (and in which sense) in
elementary arithmetic.

>> Having said that, let me reiterate that I do appreciate your
>> efforts to simplify and explain every step of the way and I
>> apologize for sometimes needing even more clarification. Your
>> patience is saint-like and in my case, unfortunately, necessary.

I appreciate so much people who are able to say "I don't understand"
and ask question.

> Which is why when I see you make a simple mistake, I don't feel so
> bad because I know how easy it is to do.

Ah ah! I am teaching you patience :) Thanks.

I ask to all those who told me they were happy that I pursue this
little teaching further the following question. Are you ready that I
pursue? Are you ready that I introduce a few bit of "new" material.
Sometimes (actually most of the time) new materials can shed new light
on what has been already seen.

What do you prefer, that I continue with the sets (with the notion of
couples, and then of cartesian products, and then of operation,
relation, function, etc.)
Or do you prefer I prove first that the square root of 2, you know,
that number which multiplied by itself gives 2, is irrational (= does
not belongs to Q, = is not a fraction, = is not a periodic decimal). ?

I am sure many of you already know this, but this is an typical
impossibility result, and somehow the whole machine 'theology' is a
collection of impossibility results, so the irrationality of the
square root of 02 is a good introduction to such type of result. Also I
will give you a typical example of non constructive proof base on the
square root of two. (And for those interested in the quantum
confirmation of comp, the square root of 2 is the amplitude
coefficient leading to the probability 1/2, which is rather important,
if only for examples again).

It is really like most prefer. You can tell me: "do like you want",
but I prefer to ask.


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Received on Sun Jul 26 2009 - 17:38:08 PDT

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