"Thinking in Numbers"

I first heard of Daniel Tammet on http://yofx.org, a math blog
administered by Tunxis Community College's Hendree Milward. I found
what I learned there very interesting and placed my order for his latest
book.

It's a collection of twenty-five short essays which may be read in any
order and which delve into a variety of topics. One, and then a bit
later, several others, were extremely thought provoking: "A Novelist's
Calculus" is probably a good place to start.

The basic question he addresses is "What really causes what happens?" He
uses Tolstoy to illustrate. "War and Peace" has been described as
revisionism but Tammet convinces me that Tolstoy had it right.

What does Calculus have to do with writing history? Calculus is
concerned with the role infinitesimal changes play in the grand scheme
of things. The granularity of the analysis of what drove England, France
and Russia in the early 19th century was not fine enough for Tolstoy who
felt the tiniest influence from many sources needed to be factored into
the equations (notice the mathematical language I find I need) to
account for what evolved. From page 137

"The movement of humanity, arising as it does from innumerable arbitrary
human wills, is continuous. To understand the laws of this continuous
movement is the aim of history ... only by taking infinitesimally
small units for observation ... and attaining to the art of integrating
them (that is, finding the sum of these infinitesimals) can we hope to
arrive at the laws of history."

In "The Admirable Number Pi" Tammet tells of his reciting the first
22,514 decimal places of pi in 5 hours 9 minutes on March 14, 2004 in
Oxford. It was his "synesthesia" that helped. If you look the word up
you will see that it almost defies definition. The key idea is that
connections between the senses are more pronounced in some of us than
others. A multi-colored mountainscape image for pi emerges for him!



From page 124

"Green-tinted blackness pervades my mind. I feel disoriented, lost. A
filmy white surfaces over the black, only to be recovered by a rolling
grey-purple. The colors bulge and vibrate but resemble nothing.

The seconds pass indifferently; I have no choice but to endure them. If
I lose my cool, all is finished. If I call out, the clock comes to a
halt. If I do not give the next digit, in the next few moments, my time
will be up.

No wonder the next digit, when finally I release it, tastes even sweeter
than the rest. The digit requires all my force and all my faith to
extract it. The mist in my head lifts, and I open my eyes. I can see
again.

The digits flow fleet and sure, and I regain my composure. I wonder if
anyone in the hall noticed a thing.

'Nine, nine, nine, nine, two, one, two, eight, five, nine, nine, nine,
nine, nine, three, nine, nine ...'"

There are twenty-three more essays. Some are more interesting than others.
As the author says, you can read a "book an infinite number of ways" and
I find rereading his chapters a very valuable use of my time.

Lee Bradley
9/30/2013