Plus Blog
February 17, 2009
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Zero is the number of yearning... review of Strange Attractors: Poems of love and mathematicsZero is a number — from "Five Poems about Zero" by Eryk Salvaggio It's not often I get mistyeyed reading a book about mathematics, but that was just what happened when I read this, and several other poems, in the poetry collection Strange Attractors: Poems of love and mathematics. The idea of a love poem is not new, love has inspired poets for millennia. But the combination of maths and love poetry might seem an odd mix. Despite loving maths myself, I was a little skeptical when I picked up this book, and thought it would be a tongueincheek selection of witty but humorous poems about love using mathematical language and imagery. There are some funny poems giving a mathematical take on love, (I particularly liked "Valentine" by Michael Stueben), but what pleasantly surprised me was the large number of poems that seem to be really exploring human emotions. I had no idea there would be so many poems suitable for such a collection, or that it would span so many centuries and include so many diverse contributors. The excerpt from King Solomon's "Song of songs" (which is thought to have been written about 765 BC) and Bhaskaracharya's "Lilavati" (a twelfth century Indian mathematician), the "Square Poem in Honor of Elizabeth I" (written by Henry Lok in 1597), as well as contemporary poets from nearly every continent, give the collection significant cultural depth (helpful appendices give brief biographies of both the contributors, and the mathematicians mentioned). It's a nice thought that mathematics, as well as love, is a ubiquitous experience for all of humanity. The book is divided into three sections: romantic love, love of family and life, and love of mathematics. In the first two sections it is surprising just how powerful mathematics can be as a metaphor for our emotions and experiences. Some poems very effectively use mathematical imagery, such as the image of tangential curves ("kissing curves") in Ann Calandro's poem "Where the Kissing Never Stops": They strive to make each other The shape of her soul is a square. The collection features some of the most famous love poems, such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning's measuring of love in her sonnet: "How do I love thee, let me count the ways...". One of the most interesting poems using counting is "Who Counts, Counts" by Stephanie Strickland, where the shifting status of relationships, and the bond of motherhood, was conveyed very simply by counting and recounting the people in a relationship. Some of the poems have a mathematical structure, one is even written in the form of a proof. In some poems mathematical concepts are used as metaphors, such as Robin Chapman's sad use of the nonassociativity (f(x+y) not equally f(x) + f(y)) to describe a child's experience of divorce in "Nonlinear Function". The final section, where poets (many mathematicians) write about their love of maths, also has many examples of strong expression, and strangely enough, many of these poems seem almost less mathematical than in the previous sections. It is nice to see the passion for the subject that so many mathematicians share expressed in this unusual and openhearted way. I think one of the strengths of such a book is that not only can it show people who are looking for poems to express love, the beauty of the language of maths, but it also might help explain some of the deep emotions mathematicians feel for their subject. I also like the duality of combining maths and poetry: that as well as taking maths to poetry lovers, it will also expose mathematicians to poetry, and perhaps as the best artisticscientific collaborations do, allow insight on both sides. Book details posted by Plus @ 11:36 AM 1 Comments:

February 16, 2009
Monday, February 16, 2009
PostValentine's mathematical loveWe're not sure if they've got Internet access on cloud 9, but for all the lovedup Valentines out there, as well as for those who are wondering what has gone wrong, here are some mathematical musings on love...
And to make sure that your special someone doesn't forget you, how about a mathematical serenade... posted by Plus @ 10:45 AM 0 Comments: 
February 10, 2009
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
The agony and ecstasy of risk statisticsLast week the chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs caused outrage by claiming that ecstasy was no more dangerous than horse riding. But what does "dangerous" really mean, and how is our perception of risk influenced by morality? David Spiegelhalter, Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, investigates in his guest column in the Times. David Spiegelhalter runs the Understanding Uncertainty website, which explores matters of risks and uncertainty, and also has his very own column in Plus. Labels: Health and medicine posted by Plus @ 5:19 PM 2 Comments:

February 5, 2009
Thursday, February 05, 2009
The mathematics behind the Complicite production Mathematics takes to the stage with A disappearing number, a work by Complicite, inspired by the mathematical collaboration of Hardy and Ramanujan. Plus spoke to Victoria Gould and Marcus du Sautoy about the mathematical and creative process of developing this show. This podcast accompanies the career podcast with Victoria and the article A disappearing number from issue 49 of Plus. Labels: podcast posted by Plus @ 3:07 PM 0 Comments: 
February 3, 2009
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
What would you like to know about your Universe?This poll is now closed. The most popular question was "What happened before the Big Bang?". We will publish an article and a podcast with an answer in the middle of March. At the same time we will launch our next Universe poll, so watch this space. Do you ever look at the night sky and wonder where it all comes from, where it is going and what we are doing right in the middle of it? Do you wonder if there's life out there, or why the sky isn't bright with all the stars that are in it? If yes, then now's your chance to put your questions to worldleading astronomers and cosmologists, including Astronomer Royal Martin Rees and author and cosmologist John D Barrow. From now until the end of the year Plus will hold regular online polls to find out what your most burning questions are, and do our best to find an answer with the help of experts in the field. You'll be able to read and hear what they have to say in Plus articles and podcasts, and there'll be plenty of room for discussion on our blog. Our first online poll — one of a total of seven — opens today. It will remain open for a month and we'll publish the answer to the question that proves most popular in the middle of March. This is your chance to get involved with the most fascinating science of them all (except for maths of course), and it's our contribution to the International Year of Astronomy 2009. So get voting now, and if your question isn't on the list above, send it to us in a comment on this blog, and we'll include it in the next poll. Happy voting! Labels: IYA2009 posted by Plus @ 3:47 PM 23 Comments:

February 3, 2009
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
What can we learn from the British successes at the 2008 Olympics? Over the last few years in the leadup to the London 2012 Games, there has been a massive influx of money and enthusiasm in the UK into Olympic sports and infrastructure. Other countries have shown similar improvement ahead of hosting the game. So is Britain's triumph an early result of the home advantage? And how will Britain perform in 2012? Labels: sports posted by Plus @ 2:38 PM 0 Comments: 