Zero is the number of yearning... review of Strange Attractors: Poems of love and mathematics
Zero is a number
— from "Five Poems about Zero" by Eryk Salvaggio
It's not often I get misty-eyed 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 tongue-in-cheek 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
They strive to make each other
to reach that point
at which they will reduce to lines
or in Young Smith's "She Considers the Dimensions of Her Soul":
The shape of her soul is a square.
She knows this to be the case
because she often feels its corners
pressing sharp against bone...
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 non-associativity (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 open-hearted 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
artistic-scientific collaborations do, allow insight on both sides.
Book details Strange Attractors: Poems of Love and Mathematics
Edited by Sarah Glaz and JoAnne Growney
Hardback — 250 pages
A K Peters
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health and strength and therefore desirability as a potential mate. So does it make us more attractive?
And finally, does the Golden Ratio really have anything to do with beauty?
Last 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.
This is such a vague claim to be made, that "horseriding is as dangerous as ecstasy"
(1) Hmmmm, maybe they should make horseriding illegal then, at least without a permit (I'm assuming the horseriding data reflects a representative sample within England, although for esctasy a representative sample should be tougher to come across due to the illegality and thereby unreporting of many harmful incidents).
(2) Perhaps this data doesn't reflect spacial-locale variation either, an 18th century American Cowboy population will have less horse related accidents per horseriding capita than perhaps a 20th century English population.
(3) How can we be sure that the ecstasy related data reflects only ecstassy use as opposed to eliminating the other contributive causes such as loud music, poor choices, and other drugs being taken in combination with ecstassy?
(4) Furthermore, does it make a difference if people are horseriding (or on ecstasy) at 10PM or 10AM, or if they're on an empty or full stomach, etc?
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 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 world-leading 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!
When are scientist going to drop the arrogant assumption that there was nothing before the big bang?
They expect us through blind faith to accept the theory that everything in the universe, matter, energy and even time, was
created with the big bang. I have been berated by many so called learned ones for even suggesting another theory, that the
big bang was an issolated incident in our local area of a universe that has always been here and goes for ever and will be here
It's only a few hundred years ago they thought the earth was flat, until we were able to see beyond the horizon. Looks like some
Human brain and what we call human mind is part of this universe. This tiny part of the universe tries to work out a scheme of things in which its observations through sensory perception fit in as neatly as possible.Idea of bigbang and theory of Everything are all parts of this scheme. Can man simulate this on a man-made machine, I mean a computer?
I am very interested in the hypothetical bucket in which one could float Saturn. As we know, any other of the known planets would promptly sink.
This bucket would have some very interesting Properties. To begin with, Saturn has appreciable Gravitational Attraction, so the Bucket must be in some gravitational field, or the water would presumably be 'syphoned off' to form part of Saturn's planetary mass.
The bucket would have to be at least 60000km or so deep, or Saturn would 'ground' on the bottom. So the pressure at that depth would be immense. What would be the properties of water at that depth?
if at the time of bigbang all was energy (no mass implying no gravity) and the expansion and cooling converts energy to mass (increasing gravity) then at the end of this process when all is mass and gravity will be at its maximum, why then do we need dark matter when we still have light matter (energy) yet to be converted?
Scientist are afraid to say they dont know. Because of this they invent ludicrous theories and fiddle about with them when they cant make them fit reality. Eventually they will come up with a new theory which subsumes previous theories without the embarrasement of being totaly wrong. They are doing this with global warming, now called climate change, as the earth is actually colling!
hi i am not a cosmologist but i would like to ask if my theory is correct I am assuming the big bang big crunch theory is true and the universe is expanding faster because the suns are still expending their outward energy as they burn out and turn into black holes expansion will slow and reverse and i am assuming that dark matter is something similar to or actually is black holes starting to
form in the center am I right or do you even know?
What can we learn from the British successes at the 2008 Olympics? Over the last few years in the lead-up 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?