[r-t] Doubles 240s

Alexander Holroyd 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 
"0-tuple change".

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
> change.
> 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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