A 400-year-old math problem has finally been solved

In case you need a break from some of the gloom and doom in the news today, TheBlaze has a very interesting story about a 400-year-old math problem that has finally been solved. Have you ever been in a grocery store and wondered what the most efficient way to stack round objects is? Well, now we have a definitive answer.

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“A critical 400-year-old -math problem has finally been solved,” Pat joked on radio this morning. “Maybe.”

Way back in 1611, Johannes Kepler hypothesized a pyramid arrangement would be the best way to stack a collection of round objects. While the concept quickly became common practice, Kepler was never able to mathematically prove his theory.

Four centuries later, we now have proof.

According to New Scientist, a computer program that was more than a decade in the making has proven Kepler’s theory with 100% certainty. University of Pittsburgh mathematician Thomas Hales is the man who corroborated the claims.

But even Hale struggled through some 15 years of searching before he could prove the answer to this long unproven question. New Scientist reports:

Hales first presented a proof that Kepler’s intuition was correct in 1998… But the proof was a 300-page monster that took 12 reviewers four years to check for errors. Even when it was published in the journal Annals of Mathematics in 2005, the reviewers could say only that they were “99 per cent certain” the proof was correct.

So in 2003, Hales started the Flyspeck project, an effort to vindicate his proof through formal verification. His team used two formal proof software assistants called Isabelle and HOL Light, both of which are built on a small kernel of logic that has been intensely scrutinised for any errors – this provides a foundation which ensures the computer can check any series of logical statements to confirm they are true.

On Sunday, the Flyspeck team announced they had finally translated the dense mathematics of Hale’s proof into computerised form, and verified that it is indeed correct.

“So really, honestly, it was the pile versus the pyramid and they couldn’t figure out why,” Glenn asked on radio this morning. “They know [for certain] about global warming… [but it] took 400 years to figure out how to stack oranges?”

  • http://spsrchaplain.org Ward Clinton

    They carefully checked and rechecked to make sure the computer was not flawed in its premise to test the theory regarding round objects. But when it comes to the climate models not only do they NOT try to ensure the starting data is not flawed, they want the flaws in order to make their unworkable theory give the answer they want.

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    • Ted Cantrall

      What’s missing from this discussion is the criteria for “best way”. If the goal is to have the collection of round things be self-supporting you will get a different answer that if the goal is to have the highest number in the smallest enclose space. (A box, for instance)

    • peoplearenodamngood

      Just ain’t so. Most basic research is carried out at universities and the professors, climate scientists or otherwise, don’t get paid or get tenure by producing crap – the institutions they represent would not put themselves in that position either. Our planet is a living, constantly changing, monumentally
      large system. To think one can get exact measurements about the land surface, oceans, or atmosphere is folly. To think the data is flawed because it can’t be checked against some constant is not rational. That’s why many models that look at different aspects of the environment are coupled to formulate analyses of some physical event and extrapolate that event into the future while picking up new data (measurements). Model performance is based on its ability to match observations, and naturally some are better than others. Take quantum physics as another example: you can’t measure position and velocity of a particle at the same time and the measurement changes the instant you take it. If “exact” is the only science you’re comfortable with, stick with engineering.

  • OSUrules

    Wouldn’t it be easier to just get some oranges and try different ways of stacking??? Why all the 400+ years of brain strain? Some people have WAY too much time on their hands. OSUrules

    • http://spsrchaplain.org Ward Clinton

      Oklahoma State? Yay! Great university – especially the engineering department.

      • OSUrules

        Glad you know about America’s brightest orange and didn’t make the MSM mistake of assuming it was Ohio.
        Pistols firing! Go Pokes!

        • peoplearenodamngood

          did a quick check – OSU has got millions from the feds to look at climate variability over the long-term to protect your cattle industry. I guess your faculty are all hacks too.

    • Jeff Lambeau

      Thanks for sharing that you know absolutely nothing about mathematical proofs.

      • OSUrules

        I do know about proofs. I teach my students to check their work with them. For something everyday, like stacking, simple, practical solutions of problems are usually much more reliable and useful.

        • smokehill2

          No, you don’t know anything about mathematical proofs or analysis..

          In this case, you can stack oranges all day and still not be sure that you have tried every possible way.

          Maybe you should get some first-year math major to explain what a proof actually is, and what it’s for..

  • landofaahs

    Sounds like a pyramid scheme to me. But I guess we now know how to stack fat round people.

  • http://truthofg.blogspot.com/ Connor Kenway

    And this is important why?

  • Michael David Davis

    how about putting them in a box?

    • http://www.ontopilot.com jring281

      No. We need ‘out of the box’ thinking. 😉

      • Liberty For All

        LOL haha

  • Watchmanonwall

    If these were over ripe then you can stack them in a cube shape. I wonder if they would be even more “efficient” if the rows were staggered vs. in line? Well, off to the grocery store. I let you all know, unless, I get kicked out. (If I get arrested, you all have to riot for me. This is for science.) Then the logical conclusion would be they should be stacked by an acne faced high schooler with inconsistent voice patterns.

  • mysteriousguy48

    I wonder how many of our tax dollars were used to fund this study.

    • Robert Preisser

      None at all, I’m sure. After all, our Government is clearly not looking for “more efficient” ways to do ANYTHING! 😛

  • Nelson Springer

    How do you stack oranges in a pyramid that has cornors and edges? Very ineficient!! The pile would have to be conical to be efficient. And if the oranges were flatened a bit like M&Ms a whole lot more could stacked in than same conical shape (already proven). Just to add some more nonsense to the discussion condsider the time to do it. If time is a cosideration remember that time is money. Therefore, the most efficient way would be to just dump them in a pile and put the roll offs on by hand!!! That’s my view.

  • Liberty For All

    An interesting related subject when stacking canon balls 😉


  • bucketnutz

    Walmart solved that problem in their produce department thirty years ago.

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