Monday, December 7, 2009

Numbers everywhere

I grew up crazy about literature and poems. I never got into Emily Dickinson, but Sara Teasdale, John Keats, William Wordsworth and William Carlos Williams (and the plums he ate) captured me. And when I met Billy Collins, I knew I could be a poet.

But in graduate school, I met Numbers. Not  just math, but statistics and concepts that blew me away. In my Geography statistics class, we worked with Numbers. We turned projects into Numbers. Houses with evaporative coolers became Numbers... neighborhoods with carports and not garages became numbers. We could take these neighborhoods/numbers and creatively draw conclusions on the income level and social economic status of the occupants.

My biggest thrill was writing a paper that took into account the radio antennas on Mt. Wilson in Los Angeles. From the height of the towers and their ages, I decided I could conclude the $$$ value of the owner. It was lots of fun and I felt very powerful running t-tests, chi squared tests, two way and three way analysis of variances (I managed to come up with three variables...). I was ever so POWERFUL!

It was like finding the true trilogy of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I held it all in my mind!!

Never mind that t-tests were developed by a chemist at Guinness Brewery to determine the quality of their stout...

So life became even better when I discovered perfect numbers. How romantic! PERFECT NUMBERS! A perfect number is a number whose divisors added together equal the number... and THEN the divisors plus the number divided by 2 equals the number again. Twice!!! Awesome... perfect.

But in case perfection never comes along in life, there are amicable pairs. OK, I could accept amicability in life. Amicability is described as "smallest pair of amicable numbers is (220284); for the proper divisors of 220 are 1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 11, 20, 22, 44, 55 and 110, of which the sum is 284; and the proper divisors of 284 are 1, 2, 4, 71, and 142, of which the sum is 220."

So I decided perfection could be surpassed by amicable pairs. 

Then came Fibonacci numbers... oh my. Fibonacci identities are everywhere: pine cones, pineapples, artichokes. Reverse fibonacci can be seen in seashells... A number is a sum of the previous two. As in 0+1=2. So take the previous numbers (1+2) = 3. Take last two numbers: 2+3 = 5. Then 3+5=8.  5+8=13.  8+13=21... etc. Fibonacci is everywhere in nature. Just look at that pine cone and you will see the sequence come to life. Poetry in nature - or even better!

Often I long for Keats, Teasdale, William Carlos Williams and his plum. I don't think plums drive you into the madness of fibonacci or perfection. Or even amicability...

Never turn away from learning. Never let go of the unknown, the vague. It can be amicable.


altadenahiker said...

Oh, how I wish you had been my math teacher. I think it's probably the most fascinating subject in school and the most poorly taught.

I know, theoretically, numbers are all mystery and music. I just don't know it in practice. But this was a lovely piece, Brenda. Talk sweet numbers in our ear anytime.

Petrea said...

I was thinking the same thing as Karin. I remember asking an Algebra teacher in college, "How does this relate to the real world?" He couldn't explain how the formulas he was teaching had to do with reality. It was the only way I could apply my brain to the stuff. Often there's a language barrier between brilliant math minds and the rest of us, but I have an idea that math can be truly beautiful.

BANJO52 said...

Math and beauty . . . I have heard the rumor from so many people I can't challenge it. But do I get it? Oh no, no, no.

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