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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

In applied mathematics, you must describe your unit ~ Newton

Sir Isaac Newton was asked by the British Treasury officials and financiers of his day why the monetary pound had to be a fixed quantity of precious metal. Why, indeed, must it consist of precious metal, or have any objective reality? Since paper currency was already accepted, why could not notes be issued without ever being redeemed? The reason they put the question supplies the answer; the government was heavily in debt, and they hoped to find a safe way of being dishonest. But Newton was asked as a mathematician, not as a moralist. He replied: "Gentlemen, in applied mathematics, you must describe your unit." Paper currency cannot be described mathematically as money. A dollar is a certain weight of gold; that is a mathematical description, by measure (weight). Is a piece of paper of certain dimensions (length, breadth, and thickness, or else weight) a dollar? Certainly not. Is a given-sized piece of paper a dollar even if numerals and words of a certain size are stamped on it with a given quantity of ink? No.

Source: Isabel Paterson's book The God of The Machine

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