07 April 2008

Can a biologist fix a radio?

Can a biologist fix a radio?, by Yuri Labeznik, via Anarchaia. This article asks a question: say biologists decided to research radios in the same way that they research things like how cells work. Then they would buy a lot of radios, classify and dissect them, eventually conclude that there was some sort of evolutionary explanation for why the antenna is really long, and so on. Much work would be duplicated, because the biologists do not have a particularly good language for communicating to each other how complex systems work. (The author compares the language used by biologists to that of stock market analysts.) Engineers, the author claims, have this problem less, because they have found standardized ways to describe such systems, simulate their workings in computers, and so on. I found the following quote interesting:
In biology, we use several arguments to convince ourselves that problems that require calculus can be solved with arithmetic if one tries hard enough and does
another series of experiments.

Yes, but if the biologists figure this out, and they make their students take calculus, how do I feel about that? (I actually think I feel good about it; if I'm not mistaken the biology undergrads already take calculus, but they think it's unnecessary for them.)

4 comments:

unapologetic said...

if I'm not mistaken the biology undergrads already take calculus, but they think it's unnecessary for them.

It goes back to a friend of mine's turnaround on business schools. He used to snicker, "you mean they're telling grown adults that high-school algebra actually works in the real world?" Now he says, better late than never.

mathfoolery said...

Actually a friend of mine who is a math professor at Kyoto Unirersity told me a while ago that the biology majors in his math classes were doing much better than the math majors. "It looks like the smartest students don't go into mathematics any longer," he said. It looks like undergraduate mathemstics is simply not interesting enough for truly bright people. Some college calculus teacher said there was a stuednt in her class that did really well, but when she asked whether he would go into math, he replied: "Nah, math is too easy, I decided to be an English mejor." It looks like there is a serious brain drain, and it's not a good news for mathematics.

topologicalmusings said...

"Nah, math is too easy, I decided to be an English mejor."

Math is too easy at the college calculus level (though the standards will vary from one university to another.) It gets progressively harder and interesting only after that!

mathfoolery said...

Yes, but by then it is too late.