[r-t] Doubles 240s
holroyd at math.ubc.ca
Thu Mar 19 14:55:29 UTC 2015
John writes: "The trouble with mathematicians is that they don't
understand normal language."
This is an interesting misconception, and I think I can to some extent see
where it might come from, but it is completely wrong.
Words have meanings in everyday language, but generally they are vague,
fluid, and variable. On the other hand, words have technical meanings
within a limited scope such as ringing, mathematics, or physics. The way
this works is that a word is given a precise, unambiguous technical
definition. Once such a definition is given, the word has precisely that
meaning everywhere it is used within the intended scope. Changing the
definition will typically have consequences for the meaning of the
stataments that use it. It is irrelevant to what extent the technical
definintion agrees with everyday use, expect for the aesthetic
consideration that it is often helpful to choose familiar and pertinent
words for concepts. (To this end, people often decide to change the word
that is used for something - i.e. replace the word in the definition, and
everywhere it is used. This has no effect whatsoever on the meaning).
If desired, one could instead call the transition between two rows a
"rabbit", and a transition between two identical rows a "jack rabbit"
(not that I would recommend this).
In my experience, many people have a real mental block about the rather
straightforward concept outlined above (and John is illustrating this
perfectly). This is a real handicap to making progress on technical
matters, because discussions about actual issues (like whether null
changes should be allowed in peals) get hijacked into pointless and
irrelevant debates about terminology. (Who would have thought that the
question of whether or not I rang a peal of minor in which a row was
immediately repeated would depend on legal precedent about marriages?)
Coming back to John's rather bizarre claim about mathematicians, it is
true that those who don't understand the above concept are very rarely
mathematicians or other technical professionals. It would be very hard to
get anywhere in these fields without grasping these ideas. Still, plenty
of non-technically trained people get it as well. It's not a difficult
Indidentally, I believe I may have been responsible for first coining the
term "null change", in a discussion after the pub around the time of the
aforementioned peal. It is amusing but saddening to think how different
this debate might have been if I'd called it the "identity change", or a
Choice of terminology doesn't matter, folks! Let's focus on the real
On Thu, 19 Mar 2015, John Camp wrote:
>> twice in succession. The only question is whether doing that should be
>> considered somehow illegitimate.
> No: the only question is whether it can properly be described as a
> The trouble with mathematicians is that they don't understand normal
> language. A purported marriage which is declared null and void is
> not, and has never been, a marriage. A "null change" is a purported
> change which is not a change; a "null peal" is a pretend peal.
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