How I discovered the fundamental theorem of arithmetic by chance

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Actually, of course, I rediscovered it.

I have been attempting to read, for the third time Douglas Hofstadter‘s celebrated Godel, Escher, Bach: I bought a copy in Washington DC in 2009 and loved it (though didn’t get very far before I put it down for some reason) but I have always struggled to get deeply into it: it’s plainly a great book – though having read more on Turing these days I am not sure I’d subscribe to what appears to be the core thesis – but it’s not an easy read.

(Though Hofstadter’s preface did inspire me three years ago to read the brilliantly compact Godel’s Proof– buy, steal or borrow a copy if you are at all interested in maths.)

This time round I am feeling more confident I’ll make progress, it just seems a bit easier to grasp – possibly because I am feeling more confident about maths these days (not that there is any higher maths in it – but grasping some of the more complex stuff does seem to help with all of it.)

So I got the part known as the “MU puzzle” – can you go from the axiom MI to the theorem MU following the rules of the formal system he sets out. I thought – oh, yes, easy, just find a power of two that is also a multiple of three – and in my head I start going 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096 – a list I have been familiar with for thirty three years or so. But none of them are multiples of three.

Now, presumably anyone who knows anything about prime numbers has by now said “of course they are not, haven’t you heard of the fundamental theorem of arithmetic?” – well it seems the answer to that is “err, no”.

Or, if I had, I never really grasped its meaning. Each number cn be factorised into a unique set of primes (if a prime then just itself, of course). That precludes any power of two having as a factor any other prime number (of which three is of course one). It’s really epically important in terms of understanding numbers and I am slightly shocked and puzzled I have never really understood it before now.

One thought on “How I discovered the fundamental theorem of arithmetic by chance

  1. Pingback: Some notes on Hofstadter’s Typographical Number Theory | cartesian product

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