Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Is mathematics discovered -- or invented?

The issue of whether mathematics is invented or discovered is posed often.  Less frequently, queries as to where poetry falls in these categories. Perhaps individual answers to these questions depend on how each of us, from the inside, views the workings of the mind.   Here we have, from poet (and math teacher) Amy Uyematsu,"The Invention of Mathematics."  

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ideal Geometry -- complex politics

Christopher Morley (1890-1957) was an American poet, novelist, and publisher who was the son of a poet and musician (Lilian Janet Bird) and a mathematics professor (Frank Morley) at Haverford College. His "Sonnet by a Geometer," below, is written in the voice of a circle and compares mathematical perfection with human imperfection.  For us who read the poem 90 years after its writing, Morley's phrase in line 13 -- "They talk of 14 points" -- is puzzling at first.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Reflections on the Transfinite

     Georg Cantor (1845-1918), a German mathematician, first dared to think the counter-intuitive notion that not all infinite sets have the same size--and then he proved it:  The set of all real numbers (including all of the decimal numbers representable on the number line) cannot be matched in a one-to-one pairing with the set of counting (or natural) numbers -- 1,2,3,4, . . . .   Sets whose elements can be matched one-to-one with the counting numbers are termed "countable" -- and Cantor's result showed that the set of all real numbers is uncountable.
     Cantor developed an extensive theory of transfinite numbers -- and poet (as well as philosopher and professor) Emily Grosholz reflects on these in a poem:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Goldbach's conjecture -- easily stated but unsolved

This blog's July 20 posting featured work from poets who have spouses or siblings who are mathematicians.  Today, introducing the work of  Michele Battiste (who considers Goldbach's conjecture), we again honor that theme.  Goldbach's conjecture asserts that every even integer greater than 2 can be expressed as a sum of two prime integers.   For example, 4 = 2 + 2, 6 = 3 + 3, 8 = 3 + 5, 10 = 7 + 3 or 5 + 5, and so on.  The conjecture was first proposed in 1742 by German mathematican Christian Goldbach in a letter to Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler -- and in 2010--though it has been verified for many, many, many even integers--it still remains unproved. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Magic of Numbers -- Kenneth Koch

I first became acquainted with Kenneth Koch (1925-2002)  through his small and hugely valuable paperback of teaching strategies, Wishes, Lies, and Dreams:  Teaching Children to Write Poetry.  Later, searching for poems about trains, I stumbled upon  "One Train May Hide Another" -- which I return to again and again for its wise beauty.  Today I present, for our reflection, Koch's poem, "The Magic of Numbers."  Enjoy.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Visual Poetry -- from Karl Kempton

Poet Karl Kempton offers readers a great variety of visual poetry -- often including elements of mathematics. Kaz Maslanka's MathematicalBlogspot , Geof Huth's Visualizing Poetics blog, and Dan Waber's Logolalia offer introductions to the work of Kempton and other visual poets.  Here are three samples from Karl's collection,  3 Cubed: Mathematical Poems, 1976 - 2003  (Runaway Spoon Press, 2003). 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Prisoner's Dilemma -- and permutations

In game theory's original, single-play, Prisoner's Dilemma problem, two prisoners each are given the choice between silence and betrayal of the other. The optimal choice is betrayal -- and therein lies a paradox.  Volume 1.3 of the online journal Unsplendid includes the following poem by Isaac Cates that reveals the nature of this classic decision dilemma.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ghosts of Departed Quantities

     Years ago in calculus class I excitedly learned that an infinite number of terms may have a finite sum.  Manipulation of infinities seems somewhat routine to me now but my early ideas of calculus enlarged me a thousand-fold.  Algebra was a language, geometry was a world-view, and calculus was a big idea.  Like any big idea, even though it had been hundreds of years in formation, it met with resistance.  In 1764 Bishop George Berkeley attacked the logical foundations of the calculus that Isaac Newton had unified.  Here, from the online mathematics magazine plus,  is a description of the attack.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Grasping at TIME

Different persons experience time differently -- as illustrated by the few lines included below (part II of  "Time" from my new collection, Red Has No Reason).  This musing is followed by the beautifully precise "Four Quartz Crystal Clocks" by  Marianne Moore (1887-1972).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Against Intuition

One of my favorite poets (mentioned previously for her poem, "Pi" in my September 6 posting) is the Polish Nobelist (1996) Wislawa Szymborska.  Her language is apt and spare, her thoughts are wise, and her gentle humor is frequent. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

More of Pi in Poetry

Recording artist Kate Bush has written a song entitled “Pi” which includes some of π's digits in the lyrics. Likewise, Polish Nobelist (1996) Wislawa Szymborska also features its digits in her poem, “Pi,” which begins:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Rhymes help to remember the digits of Pi

Calculated at the website, WolframAlpha, here are the first fifty-nine digits of the irrational number π (ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter):

     π = 3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751058209749...

Before computers became available  to calculate π to lots of decimal places in an instant, people who did scientific calculations could keep the number easily available by memorizing some of the digits.  The website fun-with-words offers several mnemonics for  π , the most common type being a word-length mnemonic in which the number of letters in each word corresponds to a digit. For example the sentence, "How I wish I could calculate pi," gives us the first seven digits.