Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thinking about Thinking

The question of what it means to think is never far from my focus -- and is particularly on my mind during these days that the computer Watson is competing on the TV game show, Jeopardy.   Here is a poem I like a lot -- "New Math" by Cole Swensen  -- in which the poet (writing more than 20 years ago) considers the limits of computation (and whether it could aid persons unable to recognize faces). 

     New Math      by Cole Swensen
     As if the word everything
     meant everything
     as all words do.
     We refer again to "prosopagnosia"--
     that condition in which
     the victim cannot distinguish
     between faces.
     If we could compute the numerical value
     of a turning wrist, a sense of shock,
     toast on a plate,
     paint by number
     one picture in a single dimension.
     Both portrait and landscape
     can trace their ancestry
     back to the point.
     If every breath
     is a separate equation
     and yet they all equal zero,
     that egg with a vacuum inside,
     that insensible which we
     sense and call invisible
     has succeeded in imaging a new circle,
     any thing in which
     each point lies the same
     distance from any other.

Swensen's  "New Math" is found in her collection by the same name,  New Math (William Morrow, 1988).

1 comment:

  1. I think this is what I'm trying to explore with my students: can thinking about something like poetry be measured in any tangible, accurate and useful way? Emma