Mathematics, Babel, 数学!


A Kazakh mathematician’s claim to have solved a problem worth a million dollars is proving hard to evaluate – in part because it is not written in English. (1)

Mukhtarbay Otelbayev of the Eurasian National University in Astana, Kazakhstan, says he has proved the Navier-Stokes existence and smoothness problem, which concerns equations that are used to model fluids – from airflow over a plane’s wing to the crashing of a tsunami. The equations work, but there is no proof that solutions exist for all possible situations, and won’t sometimes “blow up”, producing unrealistic answers. In 2000, the Clay Mathematics Institute, now in Providence, Rhode Island, named this one of seven Millennium Prize problems offering $1 million to anyone who could devise a proof.

Otelbayev claims to have done just that in a paper published in the Mathematical Journal, also based in Kazakhstan. “I worked on the problem on and off, for 30 years,” he told New Scientist, in Russian – he does not speak English. However, the combination of the Russian text and the specialist knowledge needed to understand the Navier-Stokes equations means the international mathematical community, which usually communicates in English is having difficulty evaluating it. You see although mathematics is expressed through universal symbols, mathematics papers also contain large amounts of explanatory text.

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We are so much bound to our language that we cannot even read mathematics written by another person. Treasures are hidden next to our own eyes and yet we are unable to grasp them.

Mathematics huh?

Universal language huh?

Not anymore!

1 + 1 = 2 only if I explain you why…

In English…

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