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The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives
** by
Leonard Mlodinow

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Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Antoine Gombaud: Chevalier de Méré, Atul Gawande, Brownian motion, butterfly effect, correlation coefficient, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, Donald Trump, feminist movement, forensic accounting, Gerolamo Cardano, Henri Poincaré, index fund, Isaac Newton, law of one price, pattern recognition, Paul Erdős, probability theory / Blaise Pascal / Pierre de Fermat, RAND corporation, random walk, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, The Wisdom of Crowds, V2 rocket, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!

You don’t need calculus, geometry, algebra, or even amphetamines, which Erdös was reportedly fond of taking.8 (As legend has it, once after quitting for a month, he remarked, “Before, when I looked at a piece of blank paper my mind was filled with ideas. Now all I see is a blank piece of paper.”) All you need is a basic understanding of how probability works and the law of the sample space, that framework for analyzing chance situations that was first put on paper in the sixteenth century by Gerolamo Cardano. GEROLAMO CARDANO was no rebel breaking forth from the intellectual milieu of sixteenth-century Europe. To Cardano a dog’s howl portended the death of a loved one, and a few ravens croaking on the roof meant a grave illness was on its way. He believed as much as anyone else in fate, in luck, and in seeing your future in the alignment of planets and stars. Still, had he played poker, he wouldn’t have been found drawing to an inside straight.

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In the late summer of that year he sat at his desk and wrote his final words, an ode to his favorite son, his oldest, who had been executed sixteen years earlier, at age twenty-six. The old man died on September 20, a few days shy of his seventy-fifth birthday. He had outlived two of his three children; at his death his surviving son was employed by the Inquisition as a professional torturer. That plum job was a reward for having given evidence against his father. Before his death, Gerolamo Cardano burned 170 unpublished manuscripts.1 Those sifting through his possessions found 111 that survived. One, written decades earlier and, from the looks of it, often revised, was a treatise of thirty-two short chapters. Titled The Book on Games of Chance, it was the first book ever written on the theory of randomness. People had been gambling and coping with other uncertainties for thousands of years.

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Cardano’s work also transcended the primitive state of mathematics in his day, for algebra and even arithmetic were yet in their stone age in the early sixteenth century, preceding even the invention of the equal sign. History has much to say about Cardano, based on both his autobiography and the writings of some of his contemporaries. Some of the writings are contradictory, but one thing is certain: born in 1501, Gerolamo Cardano was not a child you’d have put your money on. His mother, Chiara, despised children, though—or perhaps because—she already had three boys. Short, stout, hot tempered, and promiscuous, she prepared a kind of sixteenth-century morning-after pill when she became pregnant with Gerolamo—a brew of wormwood, burned barleycorn, and tamarisk root. She drank it down in an attempt to abort the fetus.

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The Golden Ticket: P, NP, and the Search for the Impossible
** by
Lance Fortnow

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Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Albert Einstein, Andrew Wiles, Claude Shannon: information theory, cloud computing, complexity theory, Erdős number, four colour theorem, Gerolamo Cardano, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, linear programming, new economy, NP-complete, Occam's razor, P = NP, Paul Erdős, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, smart grid, Stephen Hawking, traveling salesman, Turing machine, Turing test, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, William of Occam

Suppose you have actually found a solution to the P versus NP problem. How do you get your $1 million check from the Clay Mathematics Institute? Slow down. You almost surely don’t have a proof. Realize why your proof doesn’t work, and you will have obtained enlightenment. Let me mention a few of the common mistakes people make when thinking they have a proof. Perhaps the first bad P ≠ NP proof goes back to 1550 and the writings of Gerolamo Cardano, an Italian mathematician considered one of the founders of the field of probability. Cardano, in creating a new cryptographic system, argued for the security of his system because there were too many keys to check them all. But his system was easily broken. You don’t have to check all the keys when doing cryptanalysis on secret messages. Variations on Cardano’s basic error recur in many modern attempts at proving P ≠ NP.

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But What if We're Wrong? Thinking About the Present as if It Were the Past
** by
Chuck Klosterman

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Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, British Empire, citizen journalism, cosmological constant, dark matter, Edward Snowden, Elon Musk, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, Frank Gehry, Gerolamo Cardano, ghettoisation, Howard Zinn, Isaac Newton, non-fiction novel, obamacare, pre–internet, Ralph Nader, Ray Kurzweil, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, Stephen Hawking, the medium is the message, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, too big to fail, Y2K

He knows a great deal about probability theory,35 so I asked him if our contemporary understanding of probability is still evolving and if the way people understood probability three hundred years ago has any relationship to how we will gauge probability three hundred years from today. His response: “What we think about probability in 2016 is what we thought in 1716, for sure . . . probably in 1616, for the most part . . . and probably what [Renaissance mathematician and degenerate gambler Gerolamo] Cardano thought in 1564. I know this sounds arrogant, but what we’ve believed about probability since 1785 is still what we’ll believe about probability in 2516.” If we base any line of reasoning around consistent numeric values, there is no way to be wrong, unless we are (somehow) wrong about the very nature of the numbers themselves. And that possibility is a non-math conversation. I mean, can 6 literally turn out to be 9?

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Is God a Mathematician?
** by
Mario Livio

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Albert Einstein, Antoine Gombaud: Chevalier de Méré, Brownian motion, cellular automata, correlation coefficient, correlation does not imply causation, cosmological constant, Dava Sobel, double helix, Edmond Halley, Eratosthenes, Georg Cantor, Gerolamo Cardano, Gödel, Escher, Bach, Henri Poincaré, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, music of the spheres, probability theory / Blaise Pascal / Pierre de Fermat, The Design of Experiments, the scientific method, traveling salesman

To be sure, mathematicians did realize that mathematics dealt only with rather abstract Platonic forms, but those were regarded as reasonable idealizations of the actual physical elements. In fact, the feeling that the book of nature was written in the language of mathematics was so deeply rooted that many mathematicians absolutely refused even to consider mathematical concepts and structures that were not directly related to the physical world. This was the case, for instance, with the colorful Gerolamo Cardano (1501–76). Cardano was an accomplished mathematician, renowned physician, and compulsive gambler. In 1545 he published one of the most influential books in the history of algebra—the Ars Magna (The Great Art). In this comprehensive treatise Cardano explored in great detail solutions to algebraic equations, from the simple quadratic equation (in which the unknown appears to the second power: x2) to pioneering solutions to the cubic (involving x3), and quartic (involving x4) equations.

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Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure
** by
Tim Harford

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Andrew Wiles, banking crisis, Basel III, Berlin Wall, Bernie Madoff, Black Swan, car-free, carbon footprint, Cass Sunstein, charter city, Clayton Christensen, clean water, cloud computing, cognitive dissonance, complexity theory, corporate governance, correlation does not imply causation, credit crunch, Credit Default Swap, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, Dava Sobel, Deep Water Horizon, Deng Xiaoping, double entry bookkeeping, Edmond Halley, en.wikipedia.org, Erik Brynjolfsson, experimental subject, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Fermat's Last Theorem, Firefox, food miles, Gerolamo Cardano, global supply chain, Isaac Newton, Jane Jacobs, Jarndyce and Jarndyce, Jarndyce and Jarndyce, John Harrison: Longitude, knowledge worker, loose coupling, Martin Wolf, Menlo Park, Mikhail Gorbachev, mutually assured destruction, Netflix Prize, New Urbanism, Nick Leeson, PageRank, Piper Alpha, profit motive, Richard Florida, Richard Thaler, rolodex, Shenzhen was a fishing village, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, South China Sea, special economic zone, spectrum auction, Steve Jobs, supply-chain management, the market place, The Wisdom of Crowds, too big to fail, trade route, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation, web application, X Prize

It is impossible to estimate a percentage return on blue-sky research, and it is delusional even to try. Most new technologies fail completely. Most original ideas turn out either to be not original after all, or original for the very good reason that they are useless. And when an original idea does work, the returns can be too high to be sensibly measured. The Spitfire is one of countless examples of these unlikely ideas, which range from the sublime (the mathematician and gambler Gerolamo Cardano first explored the idea of ‘imaginary numbers’ in 1545; these apparently useless curiosities later turned out to be essential for developing radio, television and computing) to the ridiculous (in 1928, Alexander Fleming didn’t keep his laboratory clean, and ended up discovering the world’s first antibiotic in a contaminated Petri dish). We might be tempted to think of such projects as lottery tickets, because they pay off rarely and spectacularly.

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The Physics of Wall Street: A Brief History of Predicting the Unpredictable
** by
James Owen Weatherall

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Albert Einstein, algorithmic trading, Antoine Gombaud: Chevalier de Méré, Asian financial crisis, bank run, Benoit Mandelbrot, Black Swan, Black-Scholes formula, Bonfire of the Vanities, Bretton Woods, Brownian motion, butterfly effect, capital asset pricing model, Carmen Reinhart, Claude Shannon: information theory, collateralized debt obligation, collective bargaining, dark matter, Edward Lorenz: Chaos theory, Emanuel Derman, Eugene Fama: efficient market hypothesis, financial innovation, George Akerlof, Gerolamo Cardano, Henri Poincaré, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, iterative process, John Nash: game theory, Kenneth Rogoff, Long Term Capital Management, Louis Bachelier, mandelbrot fractal, martingale, new economy, Paul Lévy, prediction markets, probability theory / Blaise Pascal / Pierre de Fermat, quantitative trading / quantitative ﬁnance, random walk, Renaissance Technologies, risk-adjusted returns, Robert Gordon, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Ronald Coase, Sharpe ratio, short selling, Silicon Valley, South Sea Bubble, statistical arbitrage, statistical model, stochastic process, The Chicago School, The Myth of the Rational Market, tulip mania, V2 rocket, volatility smile

MIT’s mathematics library, despite its enormous holdings, did not have a copy of the obscure 1914 textbook. But Samuelson did find something else by Bachelier that piqued his interest: Bachelier’s dissertation, published under the title A Theory of Speculation. He checked it out of the library and brought it back to his office. Bachelier was not, of course, the first person to take a mathematical interest in games of chance. That distinction goes to the Italian Renaissance man Gerolamo Cardano. Born in Milan around the turn of the sixteenth century, Cardano was the most accomplished physician of his day, with popes and kings clamoring for his medical advice. He authored hundreds of essays on topics ranging from medicine to mathematics to mysticism. But his real passion was gambling. He gambled constantly, on dice, cards, and chess — indeed, in his autobiography he admitted to passing years in which he gambled every day.

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Surfaces and Essences
** by
Douglas Hofstadter,
Emmanuel Sander

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affirmative action, Albert Einstein, Arthur Eddington, Benoit Mandelbrot, Brownian motion, Chance favours the prepared mind, cognitive dissonance, computer age, computer vision, dematerialisation, Donald Trump, Douglas Hofstadter, Ernest Rutherford, experimental subject, Flynn Effect, Georg Cantor, Gerolamo Cardano, Golden Gate Park, haute couture, haute cuisine, Henri Poincaré, Isaac Newton, l'esprit de l'escalier, Louis Pasteur, Mahatma Gandhi, mandelbrot fractal, Menlo Park, Norbert Wiener, place-making, Silicon Valley, statistical model, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, theory of mind, upwardly mobile, urban sprawl

This little guess, sliding a couple of times from two-ness to three-ness, and also once from three-ness to four-ness (which in itself comes from a mini-analogy: “4 is to 3 as 3 is to 2”) seems like an utter triviality, but without very simple-seeming conceptual slippages of this sort, which crop up absolutely everywhere in mathematics, it would be impossible to make any kind of progress at all. Let’s return to the story of the solution of “the” cubic equation (the reason for the quote marks will emerge shortly). It all took place in Italy — first in Bologna (Scipione del Ferro), and a bit later in Brescia (Niccolò Tartaglia) and Milan (Gerolamo Cardano). Del Ferro found a partial solution first but didn’t publish it; some twenty years later, Tartaglia found essentially the same partial solution; finally, Cardano generalized their findings and published them in a famous book called Ars Magna (“The Great Art”). The odd thing is that, as things were coming into focus, in order to list all the “different” solutions of the cubic equation, Cardano had to use thirteen chapters!

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One can imagine that at this stage mathematicians might well have joyfully concluded that they had at last arrived at the end of the number trail: that there were no more numbers left to be discovered. But the predilection of the human mind to make analogies left and right was far too strong for that to be the case. The discovery of the solution of the cubic by the Italians in the sixteenth century inspired European mathematicians to seek analogous solutions to equations having higher degrees than 3. In fact, Gerolamo Cardano himself, aided by Lodovico Ferrari, solved the quartic — the fourth-degree equation. Even though there was no geometric interpretation for an expression like “x4 ”, the purely formal analogy between the equation ax3 +bx2 + cx + d = 0 and its longer cousin ax4 + bx3 + cx2 + dx + e = 0 was so alluring to Cardano that he could not resist tackling the challenge. And in short order Cardano and Ferrari, using methods analogous to those that had turned the trick for the cubic, came up with the solution.