Mathematicians and psychologists don't cross paths that often and when they do you wouldn't expect it to involve an (apparently) unassuming puzzle like the Tower of Hanoi. Yet, the puzzle holds fascination in both fields.
In the 1930s the logician Kurt Gödel showed that if you set out proper rules for mathematics, you lose the ability to decide whether certain statements are true or false. This is rather shocking and you may wonder why Gödel's result hasn't wiped out mathematics once and for all. The answer is that, initially at least, the unprovable statements logicians came up with were quite contrived. But are they about to enter mainstream mathematics?
The human brain faces a
difficult trade-off. On the one hand it needs to be complex to ensure high performance, and on the other it needs to minimise "wiring cost" — the sum of the length of all the connections —
because communication over distance takes a lot of energy. It's a problem well-known to computer scientists. And it seems that market driven human invention and natural selection have come up with similar solutions.
It is thought that the next great advances in biology and medicine will be discovered with mathematics. As biology stands on the brink of becoming a theoretical science, Thomas Fink asks if there is more to this collaboration than maths acting as biology's newest microscope. Will theoretical biology lead to new and exciting maths, just as theoretical physics did in the last two centuries? And is there a mathematically elegant story behind life?
Next year is a great one for biology. Not only will we celebrate 150 years since the publication of On the origin of species, but also 200 years since the birth of its author, Charles Darwin. At the heart of Darwin's theory of evolution lies a beautifully simple mathematical object: the evolutionary tree. In this article we look at how maths is used to reconstruct and understand it.