Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"Power Tool," by Hans Christian von Bayer. The Sciences, September/October 2000, pages 12-15.

Hans Christian von Bayer presents the logarithmic function, with its knack for turning mind-bogglingly large and small numbers into manageable quantities, as a powerful tool for comprehending our universe and our place in it. The logarithm pops up in mathematical descriptions of physical processes in fields as different as communication science and thermodynamics, cosmology and acoustics. What's more, von Bayer argues, it's the natural power tool because it formalizes our perception of the universe. From the brightness of stars to loudness of sounds, our ability to perceive difference in magnitudes turns out to be intrinsically logarithmic---a sound we perceive to be three times louder is actually 1000 times more physically intense. According to von Bayer, the mindset for the new millennium will tap into that innate logarithmic rhythm.

--- Kathryn Leonard