The Marginalian
The Marginalian

Search results for “math”

Shakespeare and the Number 14, or Why Poetry and Mathematics Belong Together

A short lesson in cultural cross-pollination.

We’ve already seen how Shakespeare changed everything and how Fibonacci, “the man of numbers,” changed the world. But in this short video, Professor Roger Bowley uses Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter and penchant for the number 14 to show that the bard was quite the man of numbers himself, revealing a relationship between poetry and mathematics much more tightly knit than the standard cultural compartmentalization would have you believe.

Poetry is an extreme form of wordplay, in which numbers dictate form and structure to give more beauty to it.

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French Polymath Henri Poincaré on How the Inventor’s Mind Works, 1908

Why to create is to choose the right combinations.

Great books are always Rube Goldberg machines of discovery for other great books, with their intricately woven mesh of allusions, references, and citations. One such particularly prolific treasure trove of pointer to related works is the 1957 gem The Art of Scientific Investigation, which you might recall from recent looks at its insights on serendipity and chance-opportunism and the role of intuition in discovery and creation. Among the countless fascinating books it references is The Foundations of Science (public library), originally published in 1908 by the legendary French mathematician, philosopher of science, and polymath Henri Poincaré (1854-1912), who offers the following account of ideation and the creative process, emphasizing both the combinatorial nature of creativity and the importance of editing and subtraction:

To invent, I have said, is to choose; but the word is perhaps not wholly exact. It makes one think of a purchaser before whom are displayed a large number of samples, and who examines them, one after the other, to make a choice. Here the samples would be so numerous that a whole lifetime would not suffice to examine them. This is not the actual state of things. The sterile combinations do not even present themselves to the mind of the inventor. Never in the field of his consciousness do combinations appear that are not really useful, except some that he rejects but which have to some extent the characteristics of useful combinations. All goes on as if the inventor were an examiner for the second degree who would only have to question the candidates who had passed a previous examination.

The Foundations of Science is now in the public domain and is thus available for free in multiple formats, though with many errors due to the imperfections of optical character recognition technology, from The Internet Archive.

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The Dot and the Line: A 1965 Romance in Lower Mathematics by Norton Juster

On finding the girl who is perfect from every direction.

The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics is a fantastic 1965 Academy Award winning short film based on the 1963 book of the same name by Norton Juster, best known as the creative genius behind The Phantom Tollbooth, one of the greatest children’s books with timeless philosophy for grown-ups. It was inspired by the Victorian novella Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions and tells the story of a straight line who falls in love with a dot. (Cue in last week’s Schematics, a love story in geometric diagrams.)

Produced by legendary one-man cartoon powerhouse Chuck Jones, the film is a masterpiece of word play, sprinkled with gorgeous vintage design and typography.

The film can be found in the special features section of The Glass Bottom Boat, a 1966 comedic gem starring Doris Day. Juster’s book itself is also a treat in its own right.

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Mathemagician Vi Hart Explains Spirals and Fibonacci Numbers in Doodles and Vegetables

What snuggled-up slug cats have to do with the math of cosmic wonder and simple beginnings.

You may recall mathemagician Vi Hart from her delightful stop-motion explanation of the Victorian novella Flatland on a Möbius strip and her ingenious illustrated unpacking of the science of sound, frequency, and pitch. Her latest doodletastic gem explores the mathematics of spirals and Fibonacci numbers through pine cones, cauliflower, pineapples, artichokes, and daisies.

It seems pretty cosmic and wondrous, but the cool thing about the Fibonacci series and spiral is not that it’s this big, complicated, mystical, magical supermath thing beyond the comprehension of our puny human minds that shows up mysteriously everywhere. We’ll find that these numbers aren’t weird at all — in fact, it would be weird if they weren’t there. The cool thing about it is that these incredibly intricate patterns can result from utterly simple beginnings.”

This is the first installment in Hart’s trilogy on the subject — keep an eye out for the two forthcoming parts.

For more on Fibonacci numbers, meet the man after whom they were named, a young Medieval mathematician who changed the very fabric of our lives — from our calendar to our business to the evolution of technology — when he wrote Liber Abbaci, Latin for Book of Calculation, in 1202. His story is one of the best science books of 2011 — riveting, important, and unmissable.

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