Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A common misunderstanding

A few days ago, one of the lectures in the university told us about a funny (but real) news report he once heard on TV. It was shortly after the discovery that 2^(42,643,801)-1 is a prime. (For more information about this go to Mersenne prime search website). On this TV program a reporter was interviewing a math professor. The conversation went like this: (R= reporter, P=professor)

R: So what do you have to say about the discovery of the largest prime number 2^(42,643,801)?
P: The number 2^(42,643,801) is not prime since it is an even number. You must have ment to say 2^(42,643,801)-1.
R: Well, they are close enough. The important thing is that this is the largest prime number.
P: It is not the largest. Euclid proved that there is an infinite number of prime numbers so there is no such thing as the largest prime.
R: Is it still correct today that there are infinity many prime numbers?

I really find it hilarious how some people think that a mathematical proof is something that is subject to changes. Sure, sometimes we have errors or we find better proof, but the there is no change in the fact itself. I suppose it is somewhat understandable why people act like this - they are too used to seeing things change. But it is still hilarious to watch, as long as you not part of the discussion.

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