Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Poetically exploring the the invention of "i"

     Today's posting features work by Punya Mishra, professor and administrator at Arizona State University -- a writer who offers explanations of mathematical concepts in his poems, explanations that can appeal to students!   Mishra's website features several mathy poems and in our email correspondence he said that "The Mathematical i" is his favorite.  Here are are several stanzas:

from  The Mathematical    by Punya Mishra

       The negative numbers were full of dismay
       We have no roots, they were heard to  say
       What, they went on, would be the fruit
       of trying to find our square root?

       Matters seem to be getting out of hand
       Since the negatives have taken a stand,
       On the fact that positives have two roots, while they have none.
       They plead, would it have killed anybody to give us just one?
       The square roots of 4 are + and – 2! As for -4 ?  How unfair,
       He has none! None at all. Do the math gods even care?

             . . .
       Hearing this non-stop (somewhat justified) negativity
       The mathematicians approached the problem with levity
       And suggested a solution, kinda cute and fun
       Lets rename, they said, the square root of minus 1!
       In essence lets re-define the problem away, on the sly
       by just calling this number (whatever it may be) i.
             . . .
       So if you want to perceive the value of this little guy
       I guess you have to just develop your mathematical i.
       It may also help you remember how often we forget to see
       The significance, to human life, of the imaginary.

Mishra's complete poem (9 stanzas), "The Mathematical i" is available here  -- and this link leads to several others of his Math-Poems.

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