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Old 2008-01-09, 16:01   #1
fivemack
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Question Why do we bother?

Perhaps it's more a sign that it's January (though the days are perceptibly lightening) and that I'm rather stalled at work, but I'm increasingly coming to agree that an awful lot of the calculations done or coordinated by this site are not worth the candle.

I don't know of any interesting mathematical directions presently held back for lack of large primes or of factorisations - nobody as far as I know was yearning to compute in GF(2^1039)* and held back through a lack of knowledge of its group structure.

I suppose, actually, I'd be hard-put to name an interesting contemporary mathematical direction; Euler swept through number theory and removed the low-hanging fruit, Gauss swept through and removed the next layer up, Hilbert and his contemporaries swept through, Grothendieck and his contemporaries swept through regions that were already incomprehensible and left them much more so. Then again, I bounced off p-adic analysis and fell to the floor in math grad school, in much the same way that people say they bounced off algebra and gave up math in high school.

Though I have the computers now, and to have a computer and not turn it on seems somehow more wasteful than to have it and to keep it running producing results which are demonstrably results, if not results than anyone other than me is excited to obtain.

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Old 2008-01-09, 16:28   #2
Brian-E
 
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Is there any ultimate point in doing anything in life?

Leaving that question aside for the pointless rhetoric that it is, I can say that I participate in the GIMPS project because it is a chance to contribute in a project which involves participation of many thousands worldwide for the same goals and to a degree which we seldom see in any other field. That is really something. I also see distributed computing projects like GIMPS as a form of exploration and discovery: as a community we are contributing to this exploration. I wonder how many times these mersenne numbers have been investigated by other civilisations elsewhere in the universe.

Last fiddled with by Brian-E on 2008-01-09 at 16:33 Reason: corrected typo
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Old 2008-01-09, 16:30   #3
davieddy
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fivemack View Post
Euler swept through number theory and removed the low-hanging fruit, Gauss swept through and removed the next layer up,
...
Too true. Euler was a contempory of Mozart, who stole all the best music
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Old 2008-01-09, 17:16   #4
davieddy
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fivemack View Post
Perhaps it's more a sign that it's January (though the days are perceptibly lightening)
How is Ernst getting on with his "daylight saving" regime
no matter what the clock says?
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Old 2008-01-09, 17:48   #5
ewmayer
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davieddy View Post
How is Ernst getting on with his "daylight saving" regime no matter what the clock says?
Well, the "get up at the butt-crack of dawn" is still going strong, though I'm very much looking forward to non-wet, non-cold days and sunsets slowly starting to get earlier. [There's an asymmetry: evenings are actually shortest ~2 weeks pre-solstice, and mornings keep getting shorter until ~2 weeks after. So the latest sunrise was just a few days ago.]

As to the worth of DC projects, I can't really answer for "Joe User". For me, it's the deep and nontrivial math, algorithmic and coding issues involved in large-integer arithmetic that make it interesting. Well, that, and the irresistible allure us prime geeks seem to have for the chicks. I literally have to turn them away from my door: "Must all of you continue to pester me for sex? Can't you see that I'm trying to debug some assembly code here?" You know how it is...it's flattering, but when the Red Entryway Light is off I expect to be left alone, dammit.
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