Thursday, January 11, 2018

Clear the head for best thinking by walking

     An engineer -- and friend -- who is a long-time supporter of the STEM to STEAM program is US Naval Academy Professor Greg Coxson.  Although a member of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, Coxson has a strong interest in the arts.  He reads widely and has suggested a number of poems  for this blog.  Recently his recommendation was "Solvitur Ambulando" by Billy Collins, a poem found on pages 92-93 of the collection The Rain in Portugal (Random House, 2016).   Below I offer the opening stanza and the final, mathematical, portion of Collins' fine poem.  (Go to the book and read more!)

from   Solvitur Ambulando    "It is solved by walking."     by Billy Collins

       I sometimes wonder about the thoughtful Roman
       who came up with the notion
       that any problem can be solved by walking.
. . .  
       And what about the mathematician
       who tried to figure out some devilish
       mind-crusher like Goldbach's Conjecture*
       and taking the Latin to heart,
       walked to the very bottom of Patagonia?

       There he stood on a promontory,
       so the locals like to tell you,
       staring beyond the end of the hemisphere,

       with nothing but the cries of seabirds,
       waves crashing on the rocks,
       clouds rushing down the sky,
       and him having figured the whole thing out.

*The Goldbach Conjecture is a yet unproven conjecture stating that every even integer greater than two is the sum of two prime numbers. This conjecture is one of the oldest unsolved problems in mathematics.  The conjecture has been tested for numbers up into the hundreds of trillions.

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