[ by Charles Cameron — in which we glimpse the (female) divinity hidden behind infinity ]
It is one of the curiosities of mathematics that the great Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan claimed to have received many, if not all, of his equations from the goddess Namagiri in dreams — and that this idea is all too often quietly omitted from discussions of his uncanny brilliance.
Now that The Man Who Knew Infinity is out in theaters, it might be wise to explore the connection between Namagiri and Ramanujan a little more closely.
Dream and waking, darshan and mathematics, inspiration and intuition, intuition and proof, quality and quantity — these polarities are all involved..
To its credit, the film contains the line:
You want to know how I get my ideas? God speaks to me.
However, the idea that “God” might be a goddess seems a reach too far for the screenwriters and director.
Stephen Wolfram posted a fine article on his blog last week, Who Was Ramanujan?. He was willing to mention that Ramanujan’s friend and collaborator, GH Hardy, “could be very nerdy — whether about cricket scores, proving the non-existence of God, or writing down rules for his collaboration with Littlewood” — but fails in 31 pages to mention Ramanujan’s own belief that he received his equations from a goddess.
All of which caused me to pose a question to Wolfram’s own algorithmic genie, Wolfram Alpha:
Did Namagiri reveal equations to Ramanujan?
WolframAlpha skipped the words “Did Namagiri reveal” and “to” and concentrated on responding to “equations” and “Ramanujan” — not quite up to par with AlphaGo, I’m afraid, let alone Ramanujan himself, or better, Namagiri.
Below’s the DoubleQuote I made to by way of comment — note that I’ve only had space for the first line of WolframApha’s extended response:
[ by Charles Cameron — a little semi-private laughing at myself via Madam Secretary ]
I’ve been having some private chuckles watching season 1 of Madam Secretary, and I’m betting Dr Henry McCord, the religion professor / NSA guy, doesn’t have to beg his friends for copies of their journal papers the way I do, lol.
Here are some screengrabs:
I’m afraid you may sometimes feel much the same when I forcefeed my own equivalent on you all.
And then there’s this:
He’s good on Aquinas and reads Arabic to boot. That’s impressive.
But it’s true you know, religion professors don’t necessarily know apocalyptic, and apocalyptic specialists don’t necessarily know the full range of apocalyptic expressions across continents and centuries. At which point, may I recommend:
I was impressed that the show, in covering a “cult” situation in season 1 episode 18, showed knowledge not only for Jonestown and Waco, but more specifically of scholars of religion Phillip Arnold and James Tabor‘s contact with David Koresh, which had the potential to resolve the Waco situation in ways the FBI’s dismissal of theology as “Bible-babble” sadly ruled out:
Henry McCord: You know, in Waco, Koresh was at an absolute standoff with the FBI until a couple of religious scholars got him talking about his beliefs, the Bible, and then that’s when he was ready to come out peacefully.
Elizabeth McCord: So scholars almost saved the day at Waco, huh?
Henry McCord: Okay. There’s no way of telling how that might have turned out.
[ by Charles Cameron — two phrases, two anthropologies, two ways of virtue — Lincoln & Trump ]
Jeff Sharlet is one of our finer writers about religion, and his piece on Donald Trump in Saturday’s NYT Magazine is worth your attention.
Here, I simply want to contrast Lincoln‘s “better angels of our nature” with Sharlet‘s “lust, the envy, the anger of our more honest selves” — idealism and realism? sanctity and authenticity? — as phrases representing two approaches to human nature, each clearly enunciating a virtue in its own context.
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