Quote for today 27

Numbers exist only in our minds. There is no physical entity that is number 1. If there were, 1 would be in a place of honor in some great museum of science, and past it would file a steady stream of mathematicians gazing at 1 in wonder and awe.

(From Linear Algebra by Fraleigh and Beauregard; or so I’ve heard.)

Meanwhile, the unearthing of a second, slightly different copy of the physical entity “Infinity” would have caused the Lovecraftian mode of speech to erupt among late-nineteenth-century mathematicians. “What object is this? What is this abomination the fool Cantor hath exhumed? What unclean crypt of forgotten blasphemies did he trawl to bring forth this dual madness of set-theoretical division and putrescent modern insanity? If God is Infinity, what Satan is this discovery of his? Can such things be?

Not to say anything of the squamous and rugose thing “the Square Root of Two” that the ancient Egyptians built the Pyramid of Giza to hide, for they could not stand the sight of it. And what of how it, once rediscovered from the embalmed sleep of centuries, destroyed the Ancient Pythagorean Order of Mathematical Illuminati and drove all of West to a Dark Age of madness and denial? You can see it in the British Museum, cold, well-brushed and dripping with its intrinsic oils, but note the pick-marks of furious and futile denial on its sandstone base, dear visitor. They tell of a history of strife and loathing you can barely conceive.

Or contemplate the void within the Thing “Zero”, too terrible to be a god to the ancients. It was found looming naked, white and obscene on the slope of an almost-dormant volcano on the Caucasus, near the Gates of Alexander, without creator or cause; and it was visited with uncomprehending reverence and unwholesome rites of appeasement by the outlier-princes of Sumer, Akkad, Persia and Rome — but despite all its power and antiquity, it was destroyed by fire by miserable religious zealots of a later, less advanced age, and now only shards of it remain.

To say nothing of the wars that have been fought over the possession of “Pi”; the coiling endless serpent sphere older than the Ark of Covenant, and more coveted. Volumes have been filled with vague legends of its wanderings from the Papal treasuries of the Late Middle Ages to the hands of Napoleon’s soldiers, and with whispers of its theft from the ruins of the summer court of the Russian Tsars by a secret mathematical unit of the Ahnenerbe-SS, hell-bent on unleashing —

Umm, yeah. A poetic image too far.

3 Responses to “Quote for today 27”

  1. Bob O'H Says:

    I went to see the plinth that holds i, but I couldn’t find it. I suspect it may be a myth.

  2. masksoferis Says:

    But I thought you could just go to 1, turn 90 degrees, and there’s i.

  3. Bob O'H Says:

    I tried that but stopped half way and found myself in an Airbus 380.

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