The Scientific Ethicist: Mathematics & Logic Edition

The Scientific Ethicist: Mathematics & Logic Edition

As scientism is still with us, this classic post, originally from 14 November 2014.

Can I Skip College?

Dear Scientific Ethicist,

I am a junior in high school and will graduate in the first semester of my senior year. Someday I would like to be a stay-at-home mom. I have no interest in going to college. I feel it would be a waste of money for me to go when I don’t intend to use my degree.

To say my parents are disappointed in me over this is putting it mildly. They have a life planned for me that includes college. I would also like to move away to somewhere where it’s warm year-round, and they don’t like that idea either.

How do I make them understand that this is MY life and everything will be OK?

Uninterested in Idaho

Dear Uninterested,

This is obviously related to the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. Let me quote Wikipedia, “The first part of the theorem, sometimes called the first fundamental theorem of calculus, is that an indefinite integral of a function[1] can be reversed by differentiation. This part of the theorem is also important because it guarantees the existence of antiderivatives for continuous functions.

The second part, sometimes called the second fundamental theorem of calculus, is that the definite integral of a function can be computed by using any one of its infinitely many antiderivatives. This part of the theorem has key practical applications because it markedly simplifies the computation of definite integrals.”

As you can see, the rest follows easily. That’s the power of mathematics!

The Scientific Ethicist, PhD

P.S. See also the first, second, and third laws of thermodynamics in reference to your comment about heat.

Dating Woes

Dear Scientific Ethicist,

The school year has started and many high school girls like me are faced with a similar problem: how to politely decline when a boy asks you to a dance.

Whether it be homecoming, winter formal or prom, some boys go all out and ask girls in elaborate and creative ways. I don’t know what to do in these situations if I don’t want to go with the boy who is asking me. I feel bad saying “no” because of all the work they put into it, and also sometimes there is an audience watching. Should I just go anyway?

Saratoga Teen

Dear Saratoga,

Meta logic is the answer here, especially formal systems. A formal system must have a finite alphabet, a listing of the strict rules of grammar (exceptions aren’t allowed), a specified list of inference rules, and finally a set of indubitable axioms. The latter may be made up because, of course, science has no way of externally checking the validity of any set of axioms.

The point for you, and I’m sure you already see it, is that since you can create this formal system any way you like, the next time to you attend a formal you can act any way you like. Logic guarantees this.

Truly there is nothing more logical than logic!

The Scientific Ethicist, PhD

Social Media Prayers

Dear Scientific Ethicist,

I frequently receive requests via Facebook and other social media sites asking for prayers for people who are ill or suffering a loss. I’m not a religious person, but I would like to acknowledge their pain and extend my sympathy. Any suggestions?

Challenged in Tucson

Dear Challenged,

Have you considered that e is irrational? Every schoolgirl ethicist knows that

e = \sum_{n = 0}^{\infty} \frac{1}{n!} .

Now if e were rational, it would have the form a/b where the two numbers are integers, and where obviously b does not equal 1. Then

2 = 1+ \frac{1}{1!} < e < 1 + (1+\frac{1}{2} + \frac{1}{2^2}+...) =3 .

Well, we repeat a procedure like this, working with infinite series, manipulating this way and that, and we finally conclude that e cannot be rational.

But you can be, using math, logic, and science!

The Scientific Ethicist, PhD

Be sure not to miss other penetrating installments of The Scientific Ethicist. Or send in your questions today!


  1. Gary

    I knew you would be happy the Patriots put away the Colts last night.

  2. Nick

    This stuff cracks me up.

  3. Sheri

    “Truly there is nothing more logical than logic!”
    Profound, sir, profound.

  4. Chinahand

    Your anger is obscuring your message.

  5. La Longue Carabine

    Wow! Science really DOES have ALL the answers to ANY question! Thanks for showing me something I never suspected!

  6. The Scientific Ethicist


    You are anti-science, sir. A denier. Get thee to a textbook.

    La Longue Carabine,

    The answer to every question ultimately is Science!

  7. Ray

    I was taught that the three laws of thermodynamics are as follows. Disinterested might have found this too disheartening.
    1. You can’t win.
    2. You can’t break even.
    3. You can’t get out of the game.

  8. John B

    When I was a child, I misheard the following lyrics:

    So let the sun shine in
    Face it with a grin
    Mommies never lose
    And Daddies never win

    The logic was impeccable

  9. Katie

    Why are only young women writing the Scientific Ethicist? Congratulations on reaching out to this desirable demographic.

  10. Sheri

    Old women already have things figured out!! 🙂

  11. DG

    Haha! How funny! For some reason this post reminds me of that Crazy movie the Lost Skeleton of Cadavra and the script that went into it!

  12. Faith

    John B! I heard:

    So let the sun shine in
    Face it with a grin
    Mothers never lose
    And fathers never win

    Child logic; can’t beat it!

  13. John B()


    THANKS for that!

    Dr. Paul Anderson actually looks like our host if our host had white hair at that young of an age.

  14. Joy

    Skeletons aren’t scary. They’re friendly but they don’t say much.
    Everyone has one!
    There was always a couple of roses chocolates in each eye socket on the wards.
    Usually the strawberry creams, which nobody liked.
    Always tinsel at Christmas.

    I didn’t dare click until John B said thank you!
    For goodness sake.

  15. Ye Olde Statistician

    Skeletons are the key to everything.

  16. Joy

    Well, that’s the bare bones of it, anyway.
    No need to articulate any more.
    If you do meet one, they’re all called Charlie. No idea why.

  17. DG

    XD Ha! Got some people talking about skeletons !

  18. John B()


    If you haven’t read A.A.Milne’s Winnie-The-Pooh, you must.

    It’s a more accessible Alice In Wonderland

    Full of unique understandings from the mind of a child.

    AAMilne had a degree in Mathematics

  19. Faith

    Thanks John B. I grew up on AA Milne and particularly liked “Puppy And I”:

    ‘Where are you going to, Man?’ I said
    (I said to the Man as he went by).
    ‘Down to the village, to get some bread.
    Will you come with me?’ ‘No, not I.’

    As perfect as an equation!!

    Pity the Pooh was abandoned to Disney. Children will never absorb his true sense
    off the pages where he lives.

  20. Joy

    …and obviously people can google where he lived not in the pages, or in England, originally, but Canada! Go to last paragraph for truth about winnie. emphasis mine…

    There is a part of Epping forest, Coopersale, near me, where I used to take my dog, Darcey. People had, it seemed, started leaving their soft toys around the wood, and had placed logs that were to hand from the leaf litter, in pathways. In the crook of a tree, Eor, there was a tiny tyre hanging from another, and a fluffy owl in another, with a note, Names and signposts were added so you had to try and see if you could find all the characters. I know this was a joint effort because it grew over time. So someone started something and everybody joined in. I took my Nephew to visit. There was never anyone else there when we were there. He is seventeen in December, the one that made an appearance in a very tired old Christimas blog. He’s six feet three. Only admitting six feet two.

    It’s only just occurred to me this second but I used to pretend we were going on a bear hunt in a separate, more proximal wooded area to our house. Seems the joke was on me. The bears were up the other end of the wood all along.

    Once upon a time, some brave, handsome, Canadian Air Force pilots found themselves ‘responsible’ for a bubu’ baby black orphaned bear!

    They took it with them and flew to England, where the grass would be greener for it and there were no huntsmen. *this is true, realised they couldn’t look after it, as it grew, and gave it to Regents Park London zoo.

    The baby bear, who WAS FURRY AND CUTE, practically adorable in every way,
    was so tame and lovable, a man, who was a silly dum mathematician or something really lame, took his little boy to stroke the bear.
    The bear’s name was Winnipeg bear, and the little boy’s name was Christopher.
    And so the story began.
    It ended in kidnapping when the Americans stole the toys and put them in the New York Library where they are still held hostage today.
    Just another thing I’m going to write to Trump about.

  21. John B()

    Joy – I think I did hear (read) about Winnipeg bear; Pooh however was first the name of a swan (because if it swam near us; great! If it didn’t, well Pooh was a good name since it meant we really didn’t care anyway [paraphrased from When We Were Very Young]). When we bid the swan good-bye we took the name with us since we felt the swan wouldn’t care. Edward Bear became Winnie-The-Pooh because he wanted a more adventurous name.

    T(r)igger Warning :: Winnie-the-Pooh
    When I first heard his name, I said, just are going to say, “”But I thought he was a boy?”
    So did I,” said Christopher Robin.
    “Then you can’t call him Winnie?”
    “I don’t.”
    “But you said—”
    “He’s Winnie-ther-Pooh. Don’t you know what ‘ther’ means?”

    Joy – I’ll sign ‘yer’ petition

  22. John B()

    T(r)igger Warning :: Winnie-the-Pooh
    When I first heard his name, I said, just as you are going to say, “”But I thought he was a boy?”
    “So did I,” said Christopher Robin.
    “Then you can’t call him Winnie?”
    “I don’t.”
    “But you said—”
    “He’s Winnie-ther-Pooh. Don’t you know what ‘ther’ means?”
    “Ah yes, now I do,” I said quickly; and I hope you do too, because it is all the explanation you’re going to get. (The first alternate pronoun in literature? Discuss!)

    Joy – I’ll sign ‘ther’ petition

  23. Joy

    John B,
    You’re well a mixer,
    Gosh, this place is like…well-gay.”
    Joy said,
    Take no notice, they’re all mad as march hares.
    Don’t ask John B, he thinks he’s mother hubbard.
    If you can keep your head whilst all around are losing theirs, *thers, you don’t understand the situation. John B, Saying nothing, doesn’t mean no notice is taken.

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