[FOM] f.o.m. documentary 1
friedman at math.ohio-state.edu
Sun Feb 12 23:16:49 EST 2012
PLANS FOR A DOCUMENTARY
Harvey M. Friedman
February 10, 2012
I am planning to author a multipart documentary entitled
CAN EVERY MATHEMATICAL QUESTION BE ANSWERED?
Here are the steps I want to take in creating this documentary.
1. Extensive presentation/discussion on the FOM, of the content of the
2. Working with a variety of scholars and laypeople in and out of
academia testing the effectiveness of 1 for a wide audience.
3. Videotaped lecture series by me based on 1. Internet dissemination.
4. Working with a variety of scholars and laypeople in and out of
academia testing the effectiveness of 3 for a wide audience.
5. Designing the visuals needed for greatly enhanced dissemination.
6. Obtaining funding for implementing 5.
The core intellectual work is done in 1, with major upgrades expected
from what I learn in 2 and 4.
Of course, I have control over 1-4, which would leave 3 as a finished
product. Generally speaking, Universities will cooperate with 3.
There is a very natural flow of ideas emanating from CAN EVERY
MATHEMATICAL QUESTION BE ANSWERED? that touches on most of the iconic
events in the foundations of mathematics.
This flow of ideas is remarkably accessible as long as the copious
technical material needed to do research are suppressed.
AUDIENCES FOR STATE OF THE ART SCIENCE.
So what is a "wide audience"?
I am greatly encouraged by looking at the remarkable inventory of
videos documenting state of the art work on scientific issues of
compelling interest. I.e.,
Gamma ray bursts.
Space and time travel.
Creation of elements.
Relativity, space, time.
Molecules and elements.
Origin of life.
Search for life.
These hundreds of high quality video documentaries, airing frequently
on public and cable television stations, and generally available for
purchase, feature highly credentialed experts on these topics.
There seems to have emerged a generally acceptable and useful standard
for discussing state of the art work in these areas in remarkably
accessible terms. In each video, there appears to be a proper balance of
i. recent developments - at least towards the end.
ii. compelling understandability.
iii. intellectual validity.
I have compared some of the material presented in these videos with
what appears on the Wikipedia, and there is considerable common
material and common language. There is probably considerable overlap
also in the people involved in pitching in on Wikipedia and in these
videos. However, Wikipedia is now being taken pretty seriously as a
kind of serious exposure for scientific topics, and I regard the
considerable matchup between Wikipedia and the videos as lending
credibility to the videos, and the idea that state of the art advances
in at least considerable portions of science can be made widely
accessible under a consistent standard.
These science videos are generally rather professionally done, with
substantial budgets. Most of them are part of series of videos on
related topics. I would be surprised if any of these series were
produced in much under, say, 5 million dollars. I will try to find out
more about this.
Here is some subscription or circulation information I have found
browsing the Internet. What I found is vague on the issue of
subscription versus circulation, which needs to be taken into account.
1. According to Scientific American, fewer than 10% of their
readership are scientists.
2. Circulation of Scientific American: 476,867.
3. Circulation of New Scientist: 137,605.
4. Discover magazine: 716,079
5. American Scientist: 72,959
6. Science News: 140,000
7. Astronomy: 106,647
8. Popular Science: 1,302,472
9. Sky and Telescope: 77,382
10. Astronomy Now: 30,000
11. BBC Focus: 73,600
12. Cosmos (magazine): 28,000
13. New Scientist: 892,347
It is not so easy to get the sizes of viewing audiences for the high
quality science videos. If someone knows such figures, I would
appreciate hearing about them.
THE MATHEMATICS PRESENCE.
The mathematics presence in this arena seems to me to be relatively
minor. And what mathematics there is, in this arena, generally appears
in terms of its usefulness for *something else*. I.e., *something
else* that is of compelling interest - not the mathematics itself.
The weak mathematics presence in this arena feeds into a general
cultural perception that mathematics is interesting as far as it is
useful for *something else* that is interesting. This is the general
perception within the applied mathematics community - although the
applied mathematicians, having generally won various resource fights
with the pure mathematicians, will not openly express this view, so as
to avoid accumulating enemies without purpose.
My own view is that mathematics is - or at least can be - interesting
independently of whether or not it is useful for *something else* that
is interesting. This is because mathematics sometimes directly
addresses matters of great general intellectual interest. However, it
is not the norm that mathematics directly address matters of great
general intellectual interest.
The research agenda of pure mathematicians does not appear to be
influenced by the addressing of issues of great general intellectual
interest. Instead, they appear content to operate under a largely
unanalyzed and unarticulated value system(s) that is far too subtle to
be appreciated outside their own community.
But I have no doubt that there is some coherence in the implicit value
system(s) in pure mathematics, and that great things would come from a
detailed analysis and explication of it. There do seem to be a handful
of quite incompatible value systems in operation. This causes
considerable friction - all the more reason to have detailed analyses
and explications of them.
SPECIAL STATUS OF FOUNDATIONS OF MATHEMATICS - HISTORICALLY.
Foundations of mathematics (f.o.m.) has in the past had a special
status among mathematical subjects.
Note that I have chosen the category "mathematical subject" instead of
"areas of mathematics". Some of the highest profile mathematicians
today - and previously - have not regarded f.o.m. as a legitimate area
of mathematics, or at least not a significant one. However, at least
in my own experience, there is clear acknowledgement that f.o.m. is a
"mathematical subject". And when I push the point, there is
acknowledgement that f.o.m. is, or at least has been, a "mathematical
subject of unusually wide interest outside mathematics".
As a high profile example, I have heard on good authority that Carl
Ludwig Seigel did not think that what Kurt Goedel was doing properly
belonged in the mathematics division of the IAS. Von Neumann thought
That f.o.m. has, at least historically, special status among
mathematical subjects is to me completely evident from its content,
which I know well. Moreover, I can point to indications of this, that
may be persuasive to people who know little about f.o.m..
Specifically, the high profile of Kurt Goedel. Not nearly as high as
Albert Einstein, to be sure. But high enough to be on the very
credible list of "100 most influential people of the 20th century",
under the subdivision "(20) great minds of the century", published by
TIME-LIFE at the end of the 20th century. In fact, there are as many
as three figures in f.o.m., or I would say, 2 1/2 figures in f.o.m.,
being Goedel, Turing, and Wittgenstein. Russell was mentioned as a
runner up, and Wittgenstein being on the list rather than Russell
reflects unstable trends in the philosophy community.
Note that no mathematician - pure or applied - is on that list
(outside of f.o.m.), which was compiled via surveys among leading
intellectual figures, by TIME-LIFE. Bear in mind, that we are talking
about *general intellectual interest* here. And note that leading
intellectual figures and others have had time to reflect on the 20th
The Wright Brothers
Philo T. Farnsworth
John Maynard Keynes
James Watson & Francis Crick
It is generally acknowledged that the 1930s represented a Golden Age
But what about since?
I will take this up in the next posting.
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