Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Division by zero

The November 2011 issue of the Scottish ezine, The Bottle Imp, is just out and it includes my review of poet Brian McCabe's Zero (Polygon, 2009). To stir your interest, I include a few lines from McCabe's title poem (which chronicles the irregular history of zero) -- and then offer a human interpretation of division by zero in a poem by Ann McNeal.

from "Zero" by Brian McCabe

     Even when it came into its own
     in The Opening of the Universe
     and Bramagupta wrote
     a debt minus zero is a debt,
     a fortune minus zero is a fortune,
     it confounded him still:
     zero divided by zero is zero.
     Perhaps it will outlive us at last:
     implacable, inscrutable to the end.

     While division of any nonzero number by itself yields 1, in modern mathematics we differ from Bramagupta's view;  zero divided by zero is said to be indeterminate -- that is (applying the definition of division, expresed in terms of multiplication) the quotient of zero divided by zero might be any number at all. 
     Blogger Ann McNeal is an emerita professor of physiology. I found her poem about zero, "Higher Mathematics," in the collection, Love Over 60: an anthology of women's poems (Mayapple Press, 2010); it appeared first in Paper Street.

   Higher Mathematics     by Ann McNeal

   You can't do that, Miss Sharp said
   from her place by the blackboard.
   Six divided by zero has no answer.
   Write the word Impossible.

   When a number is divided by itself,
   the answer is one.  When a woman
   is divided by her fantasies,
   by ambition, unswept floors,

   family, highways,
   meetings, bedsheets,
   the answer is unknowable.
   If any number is divided by one,

   the answer is herself, feet
   on the ground, knowingness,
   porcupines, potatoes.

   Dividing by zero is not the problem.
   When someone is divided by zero,
   the answer is gloriously infinity,
   one number after another up past
   a trillion, always more.

   So the woman, who is not divided
   now by children, obligations,
   anyone else's dirty dishes  --
   a woman divided by nothng
   but herself is whole.

Another poem on dividing by zero may be found in my posting for 10 February 2011  -- and a variety of other postings also have poems of zero.  These may be found using the  SEARCH THIS SITE  link located in the bottom border of this blog.

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