You could say that science, in the current sense of the term, started with Galileo, who said that the book of nature is written in lingua matematica (Leonardo had said something very similar a century before), and also, abounding in the same idea, that we must measure everything that is measurable and make measurable what is not; a cosmological theory and a scientific program summarized in a couple of sentences, which would inspire Newton to, on the shoulders of Galileo and other giants, glimpse – and transcribe – the fundamental "phrases" of that immense mathematical book. Phrases made of numbers and letters endowed with a new meaning, and which, unfortunately, became for many an encrypted, almost initiatory language.
When Stephen Hawking published his Brief history of timeHe jokingly said that his editor had warned him that if he included mathematical formulas in the book, sales would be reduced by half. It is regrettable, not to say alarming, that even people interested in science, potential buyers of a book like Hawking's, have difficulty reading the Mathematical lingua of which Galileo speaks; because that does not only mean that they can not read many interesting books and articles about the world in which we live, but they can only read half of the great book of nature, which, following Galileo, becomes "obscure" labyrinth "if we do not illuminate it with the formulas and equations that describe and explain it.
I propose a simple test: look at the following formulas and ask yourself a triple question: Do I know what they mean? Do I clearly understand what they say? Do I know their origin and their applications? Let's start with a very simple example: all moderately educated people know that the area of the circle is πrtwo, and they also know how to read the signs used: pi multiplied by the radius squared, where π = 3.14 … Yes, but why? How was this formula obtained? What other results are derived from it? And let's continue with nine other well-known formulas (and some even as famous as the first and the last), but often little understood:
E = mctwo
Look at the following formulas and ask yourself a triple question: Do I know what they mean? Do I clearly understand what they say? Do I know their origin and their applications?
F = m.a
totwo = btwo + ctwo
V = I.R
F = G monemtwo/ rtwo
PV / T = P'V '/ T'
C + V = A + 2
Φ = (1 + √5) / 2
What could you say about each of these formulas? What doubts and questions do you get?
As is well known, it is usually called "master formulas" to pharmaceutical preparations. The expression may be a little pompous applied to a cough syrup; but it is totally adequate if we refer to formulas and equations like the ones listed above, because they are the master keys that open the doors of the most solid, reliable and operative knowledge we have: scientific knowledge. And in successive deliveries I will try to explain the dignified, the history and the applications of each of them.
"Only Euclid has contemplated nude beauty," said the great American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. But do not take your beautiful verses to the letter: others can also contemplate if we follow Euclid and those who succeeded in the task of illuminating the dark labyrinth and bare the beauty. Because our greatest strength as a species is that anything that any person discovers or imagines and manages to express through signs – be they letters or numbers, images or sounds – is available to all others.
Carlo Frabetti He is a writer and mathematician, a member of the New York Academy of Sciences. He has published more than 50 scientific dissemination works for adults, children and young people, among them Damn physics, Damn mathematics or The big game. He was a screenwriter The Cristal ball. He is also the author of The game of science.