"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 |