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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Euler on Experience being Unnecessary

"Many journalists have fallen for the conspiracy theory of government. I do assure you that they would produce more accurate work if they adhered to the cock-up theory." - Bernard Ingham

***

(following on from The Inadequacy of Experience)

In 1727, Leonhard Euler tied for the second prize of the Paris Academy on the best way to arrange masts on a ship.

This, despite his never having been on a ship.

Indeed, Euler was

"The youthful inhabitant of the Alps", who, other than freighters, ferry boats, and simple canoes on the Rhine river, had never yet caught sight of a ship!
(Leonhard Euler / Emil A. Fellmann)

On his own proposal (Translated & Annotated by Ian Bruce):

Here at last I put an end to my meditations, since it is seen that I have carefully assessed the matter proposed in the problem, and I may have satisfied the problem. I do not think that it is necessary to confirm my theory by experiment, since the whole has been deduced from both the surest and the most irrefutable principles of mechanics, and thus concerning that there cannot be the least doubt or the truth can be put to the test in practice

No doubt there were sailors who, valorising the reality of lived experience, ignored the work of the mathematicians.

(I am reminded of some people who, when I presented them with copious evidence that the Sexual Double Standard did not exist, refused to believe it and fell back on anecdotes - no doubt salient due to Confirmation Bias, and in the end claimed that when a "minority" shares something, other people should listen)
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