Sunday, August 14, 2011

Google adventures: Ys and infinities

I was thinking of writing a post about the (bad) math in the cosmological argument.  But you're not going to see it yet.  Instead let me tell you something funny that happened during research.

For reference, I decided to use Lane Craig because he is widely cited.*  And I used this article, which was recommended by a friend who like Lane Craig.

Lane Craig says this:
The sign of this sort of infinity, which is used in calculus, is ¥.
At first I saw that symbol, the Y with double-strike-through, and thought, "What the hell?  Is he using some obscure concept of infinity that was mentioned once by who knows which mathematician?"

To Google!

I quickly found another website which used the same symbol.  Apparently, the double-struck-Y was a symbol invented by John Wallis in 1655.  Who also, it seems, invented the sideways-8 symbol for infinity, the lemniscus.  But the website didn't explain why there were two symbols, or even seem to acknowledge it.

To Google?

I could not find a single other article which mentioned the Y-with-equals-sign as a symbol for infinity.  It looked pretty suspicious!  And whenever I tried searching John Wallis, only the lemniscus was ever mentioned.  I thought maybe the lemniscus was just so much better-known that it overran any mention of the plus-plus-Y symbol.

Eventually, with more Google, I was able to solve this mystery.  It's a Symbol font problem.  With certain browsers, using the Symbol font will cause the wrong symbol to appear. In particular, if you try to make the lemniscus symbol, ∞, it will appear as the Yen symbol.  If your internet browser does not have this problem, I guess you've just solved the mystery of WTF Is Miller Talking About?

You learn something new every day.  Sometimes things you didn't really want to learn.

*Okay, it's more like, I have had three or four independent personal experiences where someone mentioned William Lane Craig.  Funny how we form impressions out of such scant evidence.


Isaac said...

So did your browser render ¥ instead of ∞ because ∞ is the slot 165 in Symbol font, ¥ is the slot 165 in Latin 1 and it didn't load Symbol? Here I used the HTML entities ¥ and ∞ and this is what the poster should have done.

Isaac said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
miller said...

Yes, exactly.

Secret Squïrrel said...

A yen for knowledge will make you Y's? ;-)