Monday, April 19, 2010

Zero, Infinity and everything in between

Srinivasa Ramanujan said, "Zero represents Absolute Reality. Infinity is the myriad manifestations of that Reality." What is it about numbers that is so enchanting. Is it the fact that most of us do not exactly understand what they mean. Or is it that we are scared to know more about them because they offer you no choice. Every number is fixed and no matter how anything else changes, they will remain the same. That is scary. The fact that something is beyond your control.

I've always been intrigued my maths. Rather mathematicians. Maths has never been my subject. Right from school, I was more of a English/History guy. Math and Physics were scary. But maybe that is why I was so enchanted by all those Chess Players and Mathematicians who probably had social skills of a 3 year old but could see the world in terms of numbers. Like they say, when you can't get something, that seems much better than it actually is. I'm awestruck by the life's of Ramanujan, Reimann, John Nash who were social outcasts but the kind of solutions they came up with are truly, beyond our comprehension. The true mark of a genius is that he works by his intuition. That is probably why many great mathematicians didn't feel the need to prove their theorems. For them, the process was very evident. Staring right in the face. Another sign of a great solution lies in its elegance, its beauty. The proofs are not clumsy. They just flow.

Ok. Now as to why I'm suddenly talking about all this. This has been my latest obsession. I read Robert Kanigel's biography of Ramanujan, 'The man who knew Infinity' about a year ago and then later on read a lot about mathematicians and the kind of work they did. Infact I started doing GH Hardy's A course in Pure Mathematics. A very powerful and interesting book. After that I read Hardy's A Mathematician's Apology which is a collection of essays and it is a good read too. Of late, I took up reading A Beautiful Mind and my interest in Maths got reignited. So, I started reading a lot and then tried working on a few math books. I experimented with games like Go, Reversi and got into Game Theory. Having come across Reimann in that book, I started reading more about Prime numbers, The Reimann hypothesis and other stuff. Has been a great ride so far.

And since I am preparing for my GRE anyway, this stuff has been inspiring me a great deal. I find the metamorphosis in me surprising. From someone who hated Math and Computers, they have turned into my deepest passions. A lot changed after I stayed with Manju Mama about 5 years ago. I've never met a man who loved Maths more. Predictable for an alumni of IISc but still. There was a hint of romanticism in his voice when we spent long nights talking about The Theory of Relativity, The Newton-Leibniz feud, Ramanujan's work on Hyperbolic functions and Michelson-Morley experiment. Ofcourse, back then, a lot of it went over my head but I've always been an enthusiastic learner and he was patient enough to elaborate everything.

I don't know what I intended on writing but I feel good now. Off I go then, in pursuit of that Absolute Reality. But meanwhile, I have an exam coming up tomorrow. And that is a li'l more important truth.


  1. Interesting thought process five years ago. I went through a similar ignition at the age of 55 when my interest in mathematics and mathematicians was rekindled by a book called "Fermat's Last Theorem" written by Simon Singh.
    All the best for the exams.

  2. Fermat's Last Theorem is a beautiful book indeed. The utter simplicity of a^n+b^n=c^n makes it hard for us to believe that it took centuries for it to be proved. And thanks.