1.77 – Does a + b = c?

Day 6

One of the major challenges of travelling deeper into Europe is that I can no longer read the alphabet. So when the bus driver asks where I want to go, this can cause problems. Some letters are similar and Macedonia’s variation of the Cyrillic script is clearly more manageable than something like Japanese Hiragana. However it remains a bit of a battle.

We were discussing this over some delightful Village Meat last night in Ohrid and someone proclaimed with utter certainty that the only truly international language is mathematics (and it wasn’t me). I half agree with this statement. And without delving into the ‘is maths just a human construction or is it fundamental’ discussion, I will tell you why.

Firstly, a dog’s happiness is another example of a truly international language. No matter where you stand on this planet, you can always identify an ecstatic dog. The tail wagging is a big tell but it extends to a full body shake, a bit of whimpering, jumping and licking as well. But this is a kinda silly example and you could argue that it is not a language, merely an expression of emotion. So let’s get into the deep stuff.

Maths is not a single language. But the maths that most people think of when you say ‘maths’ is a language… if that makes any sense. I’ll give you an example; this bloke in Japan developed a whole new type of mathematics called inter-universal Teichmüller theory just to try and prove some maths based on the simple equation a + b = c. But this new language has caused a problem- no one can really understand it. As a result, mathematicians are debating the validity of the 500 page report and no journal will agree to publish it. It also doesn’t help that the author is being less than useful when it comes to transferring knowledge to his colleagues.

So back to the point; mathematics is not entirely universal. There’s probably less than 100 people in the entire world that can understand anything past page 1 of this controversial maths proof. And that’s not just because maths is really hard!

I am now back in Skopje from Ohrid after a sweaty bus journey. The plan is to trek up the big hill to the top, take photos, and make it back in time for a shower and the wine festival in town tonight! What an amazing week this is turning out to be!


maths equation

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