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Posted by dow on July 13, 2010, 2:47 pm

The problem states that the distance between them can only be halved
every 15 minutes. It doesn't say that the woman can abruptly reduce it
to zero.

But how many women would wait, naked, for an hour or more?


Posted by Bruce Richmond on July 13, 2010, 4:31 pm

I'll let you know when I've finished my research.  Wonder if I can get
a government grant ;)


Posted by Morris Dovey on July 13, 2010, 5:22 pm
 On 7/13/2010 9:47 AM, dow wrote:

Nyet - the problem states: "Like the difference between an engineer and
a mathematician.  Both are placed on one side of the room and a
voluptuous naked women is placed on the other.

They are told that they can only halve the distance remaining to the
women [sic] every 15 minutes."

RTP <grin> - there is no restriction placed on the woman's movement.

The mathematician knows to validate all assumptions, and to test all
hypotheses - and that failure to do so can produce unsatisfactory
(perhaps even painful) outcomes...

...and an assumption that any woman has no preferences or options has an
unacceptably low probability.

That might depend on the woman, the engineer, the mathematician, and
even the room.

Morris Dovey

Posted by dow on July 15, 2010, 12:38 am
It says "they are told" they can halve the distance every 15 minutes.
Since the woman has already been mentioned, presumably "they" includes

And even if it doesn't, surely asking the woman to move to the middle
of the room would be tantamount to participating in an illegal move.

Never mind. As seen by an observer moving almost at c, they are
already virtually in contact. However, in a finite time, they wouldn't
be able to do anything...

You've probably heard the story about the university scientist who had
a mathematical problem he couldn't solve. He walked across to the
Mathematics Department, to get help.

The first person he encountered was a research student. The scientist
explained the problem, and the student promised to work on it and get
back to him.

Feeling uneasy about trusting a mere student, the scientist found a
lecturer. After hearing the problem, he too promised to get back to
the scientist.

On the way out, the scientist met the professor who was the Head of
the Mathematics Department. He also promised to work on the problem
and get back to the scientist.

That evening, there was a knock on the scientist's door. It was the
research student. He gave the scientist a page of calculations, with
the answer to the problem at the end. The scientist thanked him.

A week later, the lecturer brought a sheaf of papers which contained a
detailed description of the problem in mathematical terms, with
instructions for solving it. The actual solution was not included.

Six months later, the scientist encountered the professor at a
meeting. "Ah!" said the professor. "I've been thinking about that
problem of yours, and I've made real progress. I have managed to prove
that a solution does exist!"

I guess we've all met people like those.


Posted by Morris Dovey on July 15, 2010, 5:31 am
 On 7/14/2010 7:38 PM, dow wrote:

Two people separated by a common language... :)

Substituting for your "They":

'The engineer, the mathematician, and the woman are told that they can
only halve the distance remaining to the woman every 15 minutes.'

And substituting for my "They":

'The engineer and the mathematician are told that they can only halve
the distance remaining to the woman every 15 minutes.'

I think the second better fits the context of the problem (attempting a
generalized comparison of engineering thinking vs mathematical
thinking), and I think daestrom's anecdote may reveal more about
engineering thought than about mathematical thought as well as some
error in how engineering types /think/ mathematicians approach problem

I can see how the engineer might think so. :)

BTW a /good/ mathematician probably wouldn't /ask/, he'd /invite/ -
functionally there may not be much difference, but my historical data
indicates that 'invite' has a higher probability of producing a
satisfactory outcome...

I'm curious as to why you would assume a "move to the middle of the
room". The are many other possibilities that result in a post-move
distance that is half of the pre-move distance.


Mathematicians, like engineers, constitute a full spectrum - and half of
both groups fall into 'below average' groupings. Universities tend to
accumulate those who have a proven aptitude for politics in an academic
arena and for the acquisition of funding, rather than brilliance in
their field or ability to lead students to the threshold of understanding.

Morris Dovey

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