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Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 176.

Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

<http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/>

<http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/>

Date: Wed, 16 Aug 2000 07:38:27 +0100

From: "Osher Doctorow" <osher@ix.netcom.com>

Subject: Possibilities - O. Doctorow

Dear Colleagues:

I have obtained so much from Humanist that I would like to give back some of

what I have learned over the last few months in my fields if I can.

Unfortunately in a way, my fields are mathematics/statistics and physics.

I have been researching in a few fascinating (for me) directions. I will

only mention the first direction here and may continue if anybody is

interested. 1. The Fermat-Newton Mystery. Here it is important for

mathematics and physics as well as humanities to know more about Fermat,

Newton, and their relationship. Pierre De Fermat of 1600s France was an

amateur mathematician and physicist and professional lawyer/civil servant

who, in my opinion, was the greatest genius of all time in mathematics and

physics. He discovered parts of the calculus and optics before Newton (the

"inventor" of calculus), analytic geometry before Descartes (the "inventor"

of analytic geometry), co-founded probability theory, founded modern number

theory which is related to crytology, etc., etc. He was approximately

350-400 years ahead of his time and in my opinion anticipated parts of the

modern special theory of relativity which was not invented until the early

1900s (by Einstein). He was fascinated with light (optics) and correctly

figured out that light slows down in water (Descartes concluded the

opposite). I will be delivering a paper at the December 2000 Orbis

Scientiae Global Foundation meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on the

dependence of light speed on energy, which will also relate to the recent

superluminal (above light speed) experimental results which have been in the

press since they were first demonstrated by Professor Nimtz at U. of

Cologne/Koln in 1997 (later confirmed experimentally, although theorists

differ as to whether objects or only pulses/groups are exceeding light

speed).

Science fiction writers can have a field day speculating on whether Fermat

was merely smarter than Einstein (apparently he was - Einstein was only a

few years ahead of his time or "one step" ahead of the mathematicians and

physicists whose equations he used, including the Italians Ricci and Levi

Civita and the the Englishman/Scotsman Fitzgerald and Lorentz from somewhere

else) or whether he was a time traveller. By the way, Leonardo Da Vinci was

about 400 years ahead of his time in my rough calculations, so Fermat

definitely had a rival. There is certainly enough material for a time

travel cinema. Fermat and Newton were both extremely secretive - so much

so for Fermat that he enraged Descartes (and also upstaged him, and

Descartes was forced to apologize) who spent the rest of his life trying to

ruin Fermat's reputation and position. Newton was too secretive to publish

until Leibniz upstaged him. Both Newton and Fermat rose "meteorically" in

government/politics, Newton to Lord Chancellor. Both were obsessed with

optics. Both founded branches and branches of mathematics and physics.

Only problem: Newton lived after Fermat except for a slight and

insignificant overlap. An even "wilder" scenario: were both Newton and

Fermat promoted meteorically because their governments were rewarding them

and recognizing their discoveries secretly? If so, what became of the

French government's knowledge after the French Revolution? Who "knew too

much" in Great Britain? Suggested hint for cinema: Sir Arthur Stanley

Eddington, Einstein's right-hand man whose experiments verified general

relativity's predictions and who was the first person to write a book on

general relativity (the book extended Einstein's theory far beyond what

Einstein thought at the time). Second hint: Eddington and Paul Dirac of

Cambridge were quite similar. Paul Dirac and Stephen Weinberg later won the

Nobel Prize in physics and were the two greatest quantum theorists of the

last 30-40 years. Guess who Paul Dirac's student was (and also partly

Albert Einstein's)? Professor B. N. Kursunoglu, President of the Global

Foundation. Anyone care to attend the December lecture?

Cheers and God bless,

Osher

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