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Landau letter, Re: Mathematica as a New Approach...

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  • Subject: [mg127607] Landau letter, Re: Mathematica as a New Approach...
  • From: Alexei Boulbitch <Alexei.Boulbitch at>
  • Date: Tue, 7 Aug 2012 03:01:06 -0400 (EDT)
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Dear Community, dear Jon, dear Craig,
After my recent post where I mentioned the letter of L.D. Landau concerning mathematical education for physicists I received several requests for the full text. The full (or whatever) text I read years ago in the book of Maiia Bessarab<> "Lev Landau: Novel-biography" which can be found here:
and in few other places on the web. One can also find sites from where it can be downloaded for free. It is, however, in Russian. Because of your requests, and since Landau's ideas today are as valid as they have been 80 years ago, I translated the letter into English for those of you who are interested to read it, cannot do it in Russian though. Please find it below. I tried to keep the translation as close to Landau original style and expressions as I could. Sometimes this lead to phrases that in English sound cumbersome, some sentences look too long, and special expressions are used, such as "exorcise" and alike. Landau liked strong (often impolite) expressions. The term "lyrics" is not from this letter, as I realized when re-read it now. However, it is a true Landau expression he applied to existence theorems.  I simply picked it up somewhere else.
            Finally I apologize, that my translation is not at all professional. Have fun. Alexei

This letter has been written to be sent to the rector of one of Moscow technical universities as a response to its program in mathematics, that probably had been made public at that time. No more details on the origin and effect of this text is available*.

             Taking into account the importance of mathematics for physicists, (as it is of general knowledge, physicists experience a need in a calculating, analytical mathematics), the mathematicians, however, for incomprehensible for me reason just fob us logical exercises off as an involuntary purchase**. In your curriculum this statement is directly expressed in a special note in the beginning of the program. It seems me that it is high time to teach physicists things that they consider necessary for themselves, rather than save their souls against their own wish. I do not want to argue against the scholastic mediaeval idea that one can allegedly learn to think by the way of learning unnecessary things.
            I strongly think that all existence theorems, too rigorous proofs and so on, and so on... should be completely exorcised from the mathematics studied by physicists. For this reason I will not specially focus on those numerous points of your program that are in a drastic contradiction to this point of view. I will only make few additional notes.
            Historical introduction makes a strange impression. It is self-understood that communicating interesting historical details may only make the lectures more interesting. It is not clear, however, why this is considered as a program point. I hope that this is not intended to be included into tests. The vector analysis is placed between the multiple integrals. I have nothing against such a combination. I hope, however, that it makes no damage to a very necessary knowledge of formal formulae of the vector analysis. The program concerning series is especially overloaded by unnecessary things, in which the scarce useful information about Fourier series and integrals sink. The course of the so-called, mathematical physics*** I would make optional. It is not possible to require physicists-experimentalists to master such things. One should also say that the program is too much overloaded. The necessity in the course of the probability theory is rather doubtful.  Physicists
 teach (their students, AB) all they need within the courses of statistical physics and quantum mechanics.
            Anyway the presented program is got flooded with uselessness. For this reason I think that teaching of mathematics needs a most serious reformation.

*I believe that this letter has been sent to the rector, but made no effect at all. Landau was not yet that broadly famous at that time. And if he were, nothing would be changed.
**Involuntary purchase - a practice existed in USSR, when a shop customer had to buy an unnecessary good, in order to be able to buy a necessary, but rare one.
*** In the USSR this was the subject unifying partial differential equations and complex numbers theory.

Alexei BOULBITCH, Dr., habil.
ZAE Weiergewan,
11, rue Edmond Reuter,
L-5326 Contern, LUXEMBOURG

Office phone :  +352-2454-2566
Office fax:       +352-2454-3566
mobile phone:  +49 151 52 40 66 44

e-mail: alexei.boulbitch at<mailto:alexei.boulbitch at>

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