# Posts Tagged math

### ≥3 (a poem and song)

Posted by Angela Brett in The Afterlife, Things To Listen To on March 25, 2018

A while ago I wrote a poem about love, and how much more complicated it is than mathematics, and how the <3 heart symbol is a little oversimplified, or at least misleading to any mathematicians such as myself who come to believe that love is a strict inequality. I didn’t publish it here but I did perform it at my show in Café Concerto, while Johanna Van Tan improvised backing music:

I also performed it at A Bunch of Monkeys Read Some Stuff on JoCo Cruise 2017.

This is one of those poems that was always secretly a song in my head, so while we were on a train to Minneapolis I told Joey how the tune went, and when he was back in stationary accommodation he sang it to a slightly better tune:

So in a sense that’s two (which is less than three) musical versions of it! I can barely come up with anything coherent to say about this. ❤️

Here are the words:

### They Might Not Be Giants: now a song!

Posted by Angela Brett in News, Things To Listen To on November 18, 2017

The other day I discovered that the ukuletrically charged Joey Marianer has once again set something I wrote to music! Truly, a Joey is an exciting kind of friend to have. (No, not a joey. Not everybody‘s got a baby kangaroo.) This time it’s They Might Not Be Giants.

On the subject of people who could conceivably be called Joey, and who make music, my friend Joseph will be singing a parody of a song I wrote on his patreon some time soon. I’m looking forward to it! If you support him on patreon you’ll see it as soon as it comes out — check out some of his recently-unlocked older posts to get an idea of what you’re in for. The patreon is his only source of income at the moment, so your contribution would mean a lot to him, as well as being good value for you.

On the subject of They Might Not Be Giants, I recited it at the MathsJam Annual Gathering last weekend. It was my first time at a MathsJam and it was great fun. At MathsJam, anyone can give a five-minute talk about anything mathematical, and newcomers were especially encouraged to, so I decided to present The Duel, a more mathematical poem than I would usually do at open mics. I even made some slides depicting what was going on. Eventually, though, I started to think The Duel wasn’t very good and I should do They Might Not Be Giants instead. After reciting both to a focus group of order two a few hours before my talk, I made the switch. With my remaining talk time, I showed some of the haiku I found in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics. It seemed to go down well. I had brought along a few of my posters in case people would be interested in them, and came back with none.

The rest of MathsJam was amazing, and I’m sure I’ll be back. There were all sorts of talks, including another mathematical poet, as well as magic, coin-floating, robotic cube-solving, juggling, puzzles, balloon animals, fancy yarn spinning, mathematical song parodies (I also sang Tom Lehrer’s Derivative Song for the people at the MathsJam Jam, since they hadn’t heard it), mathematical cakes, and a competition competition!

I won an origami double-stellated tetrahedron in a competition competition competition. It might not technically be a double-stellated tetrahedron, but the competition was to name it, and, inspired directly by the talk by the shape’s creator (Kathryn Taylor), that’s what I named it.

I was a bit worried that it was going to be a pain to get that home without damaging or losing it, since it would get crushed in my bag and I’m not used to carrying something in my hands constantly. At first it had a string or rubber band around it which had been used to tie it to the competition box, so I tied it to a belt hook. At some point it fell off and partly came apart, but I was having dinner with other MathsJam attendees at the time, and one of them knew enough modular origami to fix it (Kathryn had run a table devoted to modular origami on the Saturday night.) After that I held it by hand, until I realised that it could be suspended quite securely in the Acme Möbius scarf I was wearing.

I heard, repeatedly, that there’s a magazine called chalkdust which I should really be submitting some of my mathematical writing to, so I’ll do that. First, though, I will read the copies I picked up at MathsJam.

### Forms and Formulae: Proof and Presupposition

Posted by Angela Brett in Forms and Formulae on October 16, 2014

*This is the sixth in a series called ‘Forms and Formulae‘ in which I write about articles in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics using poetic forms covered by articles in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. This installment’s mathematics article is entitled ‘Geometry’, and the poetic form is anecdote. This poem tells a true story I was reminded of by the discussion of the many attempts to prove Euclid’s parallel postulate from the other postulates, before people finally considered what would happen if it were false, opening up whole new geometries. This anecdote is not directly analogous, however, since I actually proved a statement to be false rather than proving it to be independent of the other axioms and then investigating what would happen if it were false.
*

A statement that the learned man had tried for days to prove

was set for students as a test

for four points extra credit,

to boost percentage marks assessed

of anyone to get it.

I mined brain gold with mind-brainpan, but things did not improve.

My efforts could not beat a path

from axiom to conjecture.

I sighed, and then let go of math

and headed to a lecture.

As I was sitting on the can, the shit began to move.

I saw the field with eyes anew

and found a boundary sample

that proved the statement was not true —

an outright counterexample.

To draw for years a foregone plan, for sure does not behoove

explorers hoping quests provide

not just what’s sought, but more.

Perhaps the field was opened wide,

but I scored one-oh-four.

∎

I’ve been sitting on a draft of this one for a while, because, as noted above, disproving something is not the same thing as proving that one axiom can neither be proven nor disproven from the others, and then launching new fields of mathematics in which the axiom is taken to be false. Besides that, it’s a poem mentioning poop (though written before Shit Your Inner Voice Says), and it has a really weird rhyme scheme and awkward rhythm, for no good reason. Then again, I did once credit my short-story-writing success to the mention of toilets.

It is a true story; my abstract algebra professor at university set a couple of problems he hadn’t managed to prove himself for extra credit, and after proving problem number one I happened to think of a counterexample for problem number 2 while doing number 2s, and ended up scoring more than 100% for that class. I felt like I couldn’t make up an entirely fictional anecdote (though that is allowed, according to to the encyclopaedia) and while I’m sure I could write all sorts of other poems about geometry (on top of at least one I already have), I don’t have a lot of anecdotes about it.

Unimpressed as I am by this particular effort, I have to publish this to get onto the next Forms and Formulae, which will be… oh, for the love of Gödel — a national anthem for the development of abstract algebra?! What have I let myself in for?! It will take a while, because I’m heading to a programming conference followed by a translation conference soon, and then I’ll probably have to exercise my fledgling musical skills again.

Meanwhile, you can enjoy the highlights videos from Open Phil, an awesome open mic night in Vienna, where I’ve been practising reciting my poetry for audiences, and other people have been doing amazing musical things and other performances. Also, here‘s a very Vi-Hart-esque video I found while searching to see whether Vi Hart had anything to say on non-Euclidean geometry:

### Forms and Formulae: Not A Number

Posted by Angela Brett in Forms and Formulae on August 30, 2014

*This is the fifth in a series called ‘Forms and Formulae‘ in which I write about articles in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics using poetic forms covered by articles in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. This installment’s mathematics article is entitled ‘From Numbers to Number Systems’ and the poetic form is allegory, making this the third poetic form in a row that isn’t actually a poem.*

A long time ago in Greece, there was a community of numbers where everybody lived as one, or two, or three. They were not all equal, because each was unique, but they were all numbers, and that’s what counted. They were the true numbers, and they lived alongside the false, or negative, numbers.

Then One day, which was the day when the number One was celebrated, One Seventh came along. The other numbers looked at it with pity.

“You poor, broken thing,” they said. But the seventh didn’t feel broken.

“I’m not broken. I’m a number, just like you!” said One Seventh.

Seven looked at One Seventh with trepidation. “I don’t think it’s safe to be around a part of seven. What if it wants to take more of my parts?”

Three agreed. “It’s just not wholesome.”

One Seventh pointed to its numerator. “Is this not a one, like the number of the day? How can I not be a number when my very numerator is the purest number of all?”

One was flattered by the description, and in the spirit of the celebration, declared, “One must not only celebrate Oneself, but also display kindness to all those around One. I declare One Seventh to be a number, along with all little Ones like it!” After that, the other numbers were largely kind to the unit fractions, and the fractions always reciprocated.

The next day, Two Fifths came along. Emboldened by the success of One Seventh, Two Fifths said, “I’m a number too! Can I join the celebration?”

Two, whose day it was, said, “But you’re just One Fifth plus One Fifth. It’s just not proper to be going around as if you’re a single number. Split into unit fractions before you scare the little Ones!”

But Two Fifths persisted. “What are you,” it said to Two, “if not One plus One?”

Two did not like the idea two bits, but it could not find a problem with the argument.

Five, who was never any good at acting composed, protested. “This is preposterous! Two, I always knew you weren’t quite as prime as us. Think about it. If we let these two fifths…”

“*This* two fifths,” corrected Two Fifths.

Five shot it an incalculable look. “If we let these two fifths act like a whole number, next we’ll have matrices, or lengths, or linear graphs wanting to be numbers. It’s a steep gradient!”

“That’s not true!” said Two Fifths. “In other cultures I am a perfectly acceptable number. In Mesopotamia, nobody thinks twice about my being a number, but they would never allow One Seventh. It’s all a matter of culture! And graphs are not numbers there either, so you needn’t worry about that.”

Two was divided by Five’s argument. It worried about diluting the number system, of course, but it was aware that even it could have been excluded from the primes using such an argument. Having always felt like an outsider itself, it had pity on Two Fifths, and declared the fraction and others like it to be numbers.

The next day, The Square Root of Two, who could not be expressed as a fraction, decided to join the numbers. Three said, “Don’t be absurd. You’re not really the square root of two; only square numbers have square roots. You’re just a fraction who’s confused. You look like about one and a hundred and sixty nine four hundred and eighths, to me.”

But the square root was resolute. “Look,” it said, holding up a square. “If we say the sides have length one, then the diagonal has length the square root of two. There is no way we can find a unit that can measure both of them as whole numbers. I can prove it to you!” And The Square Root of Two proved it.

“Okay,” said Three. “You’ve shown that the diagonal can’t be measured with the same unit as the sides. But they’re just lengths, not numbers. All you’ve done is show that not all lengths can be measured with numbers. The numbers are not going to be happy about this, you know.”

“But I am a number! I am the number which can measure that diagonal!”

“That’s just irrational. Lengths are not numbers. Either you’re a number, in which case you should show yourself as a fraction instead of wearing that radical outfit, or you’re a length, or a ratio of lengths, and you should go back where you belength. Make up your mind.”

“I told you this would happen!” said Five. “I told you lengths would be next!”

So the Square Root of Two skulked back to geometry, and commiserated, but did not commensurate, with the ratio of a circumference to a diameter.

Meanwhile, Two Fifths told all its new number friends about its adventures in Babylon, and the sexy sexagesimal numbers there. Before long, it became fashionable for numbers to represent themselves using decimal places instead of fractions. Some of them had to use zeros to make sure their digits hung in the right places.

Zero saw its chance, and claimed its right to be considered a number.

“But you’re not a number!” said Four. “You’re just a placeholder that the fractions use when they’re dressing up in their costumes for their unwholesome sexagesimal parties.” Four looked down its slope at a nearby decimal.

“But if I add myself to you, is there not equality? I should be treated the same as you.”

“But,” said One, “numbers have to be able to multiply. If you multiply you only get yourself. Only multiplying with me should do that! I’m the Unit around here, not you.”

“You’re destroying the family Unit!” shouted Five, in defense of its onely other divisor.

“I can’t even tell whether you’re true or false!” cried One Seventh, nonplussed.

So Zero went back to dutifully holding places, quietly adding itself to everyone and everytwo it met, until they were all convinced it held a place in society.

On the Seventh day, which was the day when One Seventh’s acceptance as a number was celebrated, they rested.

On the Tenth day, which was the day when The Tenth was celebrated, The Tenth returned from a vacation in Flanders and declared, “There are no absurd, irrational, irregular, inexplicable, or surd numbers!”

Five and Three cheered, and made obtuse gestures at The Square Root of Two and its friends. “You see? You’re not numbers.”

“All numbers are squares, cubes, fourth powers, and so on. The roots are just numbers. Quantities, magnitudes, ratios… they are all just numbers like us. We can all fit along the same line.”

Five and Three looked at each other in primal disgust. “I’m not a point on a line! I’m a number! A real number!” Five shouted.

“Real numbers,” countered The Tenth, “include everyone, and everyfraction, and everylength in between.”

The Square Root of Two led its friends into their places between the other numbers, and they celebrated with unlimited sines, cosines, and logarithms. Some of the stuffier primes and fractions protested, but they backed down when they realised just how many of these strange new numbers there were.

But even as The Tenth spoke, it knew that not everything it said was true. After all, false numbers were not the square of anything, even though it had seen them act like they were in some delightful formulae.

At Length, which was the day when the acceptance of lengths as numbers was celebrated, somereal wondered what would happen if false numbers were squares of something too. It imagined a new kind of radical, like those the square roots wore, but for false numbers. It imagined a world where every polynomial equation had roots, be they real, false, or imaginary. These were clearly not like all the other numbers The Tenth had listed.

Soon after, the imaginary numbers came out of hiding. “We do exist!” they said. “And we can add and subtract and multiply and divide just like you!”

The other numbers were wary, for they could not work out where the imaginaries fit amongst them. They could not even tell who was bigger. Five was disgusted that such numbers had been secretly adding themselves to real numbers all along.

The real numbers were nonetheless intrigued by and slightly envious of these exotic creatures, and despite having become accustomed to all having equal status as numbers, sought new ways to distinguish themselves from the crowd. The whole numbers had never quite got over the feeling of being generally nicer than the other numbers, so they used the new trend to vaunt their natural wholesomeness. The ratio of a circumference to a diameter, who had taken on the name Pi, discovered that in addition to not being expressible as a fraction, it was so much more interesting than The Square Root of Two that it couldn’t even be expressed in such roots. It called itself ‘transcendental’, and had quite some cachet until most of its admirers realised that they had the same property.

Finally they discovered that instead of trying to organise everynum into a line, they could arrange themselves in two dimensions, with the imaginaries along one axis and the reals along the other, and the vast plane in between filled with complex combinations of both.

Some of the more progressive numbers were so excited by this system that they tried to find new numbers that they could arrange into a three-dimensional volume, but they couldn’t find any. However, during their search they found things called quaternions, which lived in a fourth dimension.

An excited transcendental, whose name is too long to write here, brought a subgroup of quaternions in front of the crowd and announced, “I have travelled to the fourth dimension, and found numbers there just like us. We are not alone!”

Five kept its fury pent up this time, but Four Sevenths called out, “They are not numbers like us. I have seen how they multiply. When two quaternions multiply, they can give different results depending on which comes first!”

The numbers clattered their numerals in shock, and a great amount of whispering about unlikeabel multiplication practices ensued.

A complex transcendental sneered, “And what were you doing watching them multiply, eh?”

“Oh, get real!” retorted Four Sevenths, crudely conveying what the transcendental should do with its complex conjugate.

The pair fought, and disorder spread throughout the dimensions. Some sets of numbers sneaked off into the fields to form their own self-contained communities, sick of the controversy surrounding being or not being numbers. As they did, they found still other communities which functioned much like theirs, and some were communities of functions themselves. Indeed, even matrices and graphs formed structures which the enlightened subgroups found familiar, though rather than trying to be accepted as numbers, these groups took pride in having their own identities. The p-adics were adamant that they were numbers, but did not care to join the rest of the real or complex numbers. The octonions did not associate themselves with such labels, going about their operations however it worked for them, and consenting to be called numbers only when it was useful to act as such.

When peace finally settled, there were more groups of objects than there had been numbers, and still more came about when those groups interacted with each other. Most no longer cared about being called numbers, and simply communicated which rules they followed before participating in a given system. And if the requisite system turned out not to exist yet, well, it just had to be invented.

∎

Turning this particular article into an allegory did not take much work. It almost seemed like one already, when I read it in that frame of mind. There are a few direct quotes in the story. The Tenth’s proclamations come from The Tenth, in which Simon Stevin introduced decimal notation to Europe. The very last line of the story is paraphrased from the last line of the article. All I really did was rephrase it as a story from the perspective of the numbers, and add in far too many mathematical puns of greatly varying levels of subtlety.

I’m sorry to anyone with ordinal linguistic personification who thinks I’ve given the wrong personalities to the numbers. Also, in case anyone was wondering, the Greek numeral for four does have a slope.

The next Forms and Formulae will be an anecdote about geometry.

### Forms and Formulae: Self-Avoiding Walk

Posted by Angela Brett in Forms and Formulae, Things To Listen To on August 14, 2014

This is the fourth in a series called ‘Forms and Formulae‘ in which I write about articles in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics using poetic forms covered by articles in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. This post’s mathematics article is entitled ‘**The General Goals of Mathematical Research**‘ and the poetic form is **alba**, which is a kind of song; I **recorded it **^{[direct mp3 link]} using my robot choir and some newfound musical knowledge, and there are many notes on that after the lyrics below.

Here are some extracts from the article on the alba, explaining the features that I ended up using:

A dawn song about adulterous love, expressing one or both lovers’ regret over the coming of dawn after a night of love. A third voice, a watchman, may announce the coming of dawn and the need for the lovers to separate. An Occitan alba may contain a dialogue (or serial monologues) between lover and beloved or a lover and the watchman or a combination of monologue with a brief narrative intro.

The alba has no fixed metrical form, but in Occitan each stanza usually ends with a refrain that contains the word

alba.

…the arrival of dawn signaled by light and bird’s song…

The watchman plays an important role as mediator between the two symbolic worlds of night (illicit love in an enclosed space) and day (courtly society,

lauzengiersor evil gossips or enemies of love)

I based the song on section 8.3 of the article, entitled ‘Illegal Calculations‘. In retrospect, using the word *alba* in each refrain (are these even refrains?) doesn’t make much sense, since I’m not writing in Occitan, and the casual listener will not know that *alba* means ‘dawn’ in Occitan. But hey, it kind of rhymes with the start of ‘self-avoiding walk‘. How can I not rhyme an obscure foreign word with an obscure mathematical concept?

**Introduction:**

Mathematicians struggle even today to learn about the average distance between the endpoints of a self-avoiding walk. French physicist Pierre-Gilles de Gennes found answers by transforming the problem into a question about something called the n-vector model when the n is zero. But since this implies vectors with zero dimensions, mathematicians reject the approach as non-rigorous. Here we find that zero waking up next to its cherished n-vector model after a night of illicit osculation.

**Zero:**

I am just a zero; I am hardly worth a mention.

I null your vector model figure, discarding your dimension,

and every night I’m here with you I fear the break of day,

when day breaks our veneer of proof, and we must go away.

Here by your side

till alba warns the clock.

Fear’s why I hide

in a self-avoiding walk.

**N-vector model:**

Let the transformations of De Gennes show your place.

Never let them say we’re a degenerate case.

When I’m plus-two-n there’s just too many ways to move,

But you’re my sweetest nothing and we’ve got nothing to prove.

Here by your side

till alba warms the clock.

Fear can’t divide;

it’s a self-avoiding walk.

**Watchman:**

The sun has come; your jig is up. It’s time for peer review.

You think your secret union has engendered something new.

You thought you would both find a proof, but is it you’re confusing

The sorta almost kinda-truths the physicists are using?

That’s not rigorous,

says alba’s voice in shock.

All but meaningless

to the self-avoiding walk.

**Zero and N-vector model together:**

If you say that our results don’t matter,

then go straight to find a better path.

For as long as you insult our data,

Is it wrong to say you’re really math?

Hey there, Rigorous

at alba poised in shock,

you are just like us,

in a self-avoiding walk.

∎

All voices are built-in Mac text-to-speech voices, some singing thanks to my robot choir (a program I wrote to make the Mac sing the tunes and lyrics I enter, which still needs a lot of work to be ready for anyone else to use.) Older voices tend to sound better when singing than the newer ones, and many new voices don’t respond to the singing commands at all, particularly those with non-US accents. So for the introduction I took the opportunity to use a couple of those non-US voices. These are the voices used:

**Introduction:** Tessa (South African English) and, since I also can’t fine-tune Tessa’s pronunciation of ‘Pierre-Gilles de Genne’, Virginie (French from France)

**Zero:** Junior

**N-vector Model:** Kathy

**Watchman:** Trinoids

Most of the bird noises come from the end of Jonathan Coulton’s ‘Blue Sunny Day‘, and I can use them because they’re either Creative Commons licensed or owned by the birds. The two peacock noises are from a recording by junglebunny. Free Birds!

As I mentioned, I’ve been learning about songwriting from John Anealio, and since the Forms and Formulae project sometimes requires me to write songs, I’m putting the new knowledge into practice sooner than I expected. This song uses several musical things I’ve never tried before, which is quite exciting, but it also means I probably didn’t do them very well, because there’s only so much I can learn in a couple of months of half-hour weekly lessons. I welcome friendly criticism and advice. The new things are: Read the rest of this entry »

### Forms and Formulae: The Numbers Are Not Enough

Posted by Angela Brett in Forms and Formulae on July 12, 2014

This is the third in a series called ‘Forms and Formulae‘ in which I write about articles in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics using poetic forms covered by articles in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. This post’s mathematics article is entitled ‘Some Fundamental Mathematical Definitions’ and the poetic form is air, which is a kind of song.

This song covers the first few sections of the article, about the development of the various number sets (Natural numbers [which I learnt as not including zero], whole numbers [including zero], integers, rational numbers, real numbers, and complex numbers) and finally a little abstract algebra. I’ve made a recording of it ^{[direct mp3 link]} using my robot choir and some instruments in GarageBand. I didn’t follow all the suggestions relating to airs, but one hallmark of an air is ‘illustrative musical devices highlighting specific words’, and I went overboard on that, illustrating each set using the background music. Airs are typically accompanied by a lute or other plucked instrument, but I used a piano instead, to highlight the word ‘Peano‘ in the first line.

[1 2 3]

You can play the Peano axioms.

Your successor will never fail.

But if you ain’t got nothing you ain’t got enough

so you start lower down the scale.

[0 1 2]

Well you’ve now got zero problems.

You can count on every fact.

You can add without an end, but exceed your subtrahend

or you’ll find you can’t subtract.

[-1 0 1]

So you add in the minus integers.

Zero gains another side.

You can add and take away, but not conquer all the way

’cause you can’t always divide.

[⅕,⅓, ¼]

Now your system is highly rational,

no division you can’t deal.

But no matter what you do, you can’t find the root of two

though you know that it must be real.

[ɸ, e, π]

So you fill all the gaps with irrationals.

You have a solid number line.

Solve absurdities at will but you’re out of square roots still

when you start with a minus sign.

[1+⅕i]

So you use your imagination.

You take the square of your mind’s i.

Your calculations never stall, but you wonder if that’s all

that this complex plane can fly.

[triangles, snares, cats]

The operations work on all numbers,

but is that all they can do?

They apply to other things; now you’ve groups and fields and rings

to apply that structure to.

∎

This took longer than my last Forms and Formulae, due to the recording. I made several improvements to my robot choir (an app I wrote one weekend to get my Mac to sing for me) including fixing a silly bug which had thrown the timing of my previous recordings off. I’ve also been taking music lessons over Skype with John Anealio, and I used a few of the things I learnt for this; if you know a bit of music theory you might notice a few music theory puns in there.

It’s not especially funny overall, but I mentioned when I called into Dementia Radio last night that I would submit it to the FuMP Sideshow, so I will. [Edit: and here it is!] Another thing that came up were these Tom Lehrer songs about mathematics, which the host was not aware of. They were some of the first Tom Lehrer songs I heard, and definitely worth a listen if you like Tom Lehrer, maths, or both. I found them in 2005 while looking to replace some pirated Tom Lehrer songs I’d accidentally deleted before listening to them (I did eventually buy all of Tom Lehrer’s albums) and in that same search I came across the MASSIVE database of maths and science songs, which led me to Jonathan Coulton and so many other musicians and friends.

One of those other musicians was Monty Harper, and the first tune I came up with was very similar to the verses of his Silly Song. I changed some parts to make it less similar, but mostly I just made it more repetitive and annoying. Dammit, Jim, I’m a poet, not a musician.

The article in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics was actually very long, and I haven’t finished reading it yet. Assuming I do get to the next article instead of writing something about the latter parts of this one, the next Forms and Formulae will be an alba (a dawn song about adulterous love!) about the goals of mathematical research. That should be fun. It will probably take a while, since it’s another song. Also, I will be busy next week at the 13th International Conference on the Short Story in English. I will be reading a story on the Thursday afternoon; probably a slightly revised version of Valet de cœur.

### Forms and Formulae: Linguistics → Mathematics

Posted by Angela Brett in Forms and Formulae, Uncategorized on June 26, 2014

This is the second in a series called ‘Forms and Formulae‘ in which I write about articles in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics using poetic forms covered by articles in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. This week’s mathematics article is entitled ‘The Language and Grammar of Mathematics’ and the poetic form is acrostic, which is a superset of last week’s form, the abecedarius.

I’ve already written plenty of apronyms about mathematics that could be considered acrostics, so for this I had to do something else. The following is a double acrostic about the language of mathematics — the first letter of each line spells ‘Linguistics’ and the last letter of each line, read upwards, spells ‘Mathematics’. The line lengths are highly irregular (just as the mapping from linguistics to mathematics can be), which makes that less impressive, but I tried to keep decent enough rhythm and rhyme that it sounds good when read aloud.

**L**inguistics is mathematic**s**.

‘**I**s’ it? Well, that ‘is’ a classi**c**.

**N**ow which ‘is’ is that ‘is’ that you and **I**

**G**rammatically understand… wai**t**!

**U**nderstand, or understands? It all depends on how that ‘and’ treats dat**a**:

**I** understand ∧ you understand, or you+I is? Are? A**m**?

**S**ome singular object that understands ambiguous copula**e**

**T**hat may~equivalence relations, ambivalent notations for functions, adjunctions, or ∈ life ∪ deat**h**

**I** ‘am’ and i ‘is’, in a nonempty se**t**?

**C**ogito, ergo ∀ subjects Ɣ ∈ {sums, numbers, dynamics, …} Ɣ has Grammar s.t. Meaning(s)=Meaning(t)⇔s=t ∀ symbols s,t in Grammar sub gamm**a**.

**S**o, let ‘is’ be a relation where no such equation’s imposed but the intersection of the sets of accepted bijections on the subjects’ grammar sets are nonempty we get (and I don’t have the proof yet to hand, um… It’s trivial, readers with wits understand’em) that linguistics is mathematics, quod erat demonstrandu**m**.

∎

This was a particularly interesting article for me, since I’m very interested in language and grammar in general. It goes into various symbols used in mathematics and talks about which parts of speech they are and how they compare to similar words or parts of speech in English. It turns out mathematics has no adjectives. I had several attempts at different acrostics, and when I figured out the first few lines of this one, I thought I’d move on to explaining a different section of the article every few lines. Then I was inspired to continue it at a time when I didn’t have the book handy, so it ended up focusing on just the first few parts with a nod to something mentioned in a later section. One nice thing I found in the article was:

- Nothing is better than lifelong happiness.
- But a cheese sandwich is better than nothing.
- Therefore, a cheese sandwich is better than lifelong happiness.

Soon after, we get the haiku I found earlier:

For every person

P there exists a drink D

such that P likes D.

It’s really a fun book to read. Next week’s Forms and Formulae will be an air on some fundamental mathematical definitions, which should be interesting because I’m not certain I fully understand the requirements for an air. I may have to dust off the robot choir.

In other news, I got some copies of the They might not be giants poster printed locally, and they look great, even when accidentally printed at twice the intended size. The English pronoun poster is quite readable at about 42x42cm, which is a little less than the size it’s on Zazzle at.

### Forms and Formulae: Y Lines About X Letters of the Alphabets (an Abecedarius of Math(s))

Posted by Angela Brett in Forms and Formulae, Uncategorized on June 19, 2014

This is the first in a series called ‘Forms and Formulae‘ in which I write about articles in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics using poetic forms covered by articles in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, even though the Companion already contains plenty of poems. The first entry in the former is entitled ‘What is Mathematics About?’ and the first entry in the latter is abecedarius.

The following is an abecedarius of what mathematics is about — an ABC of mathematics, if you like. You can also try reading it along to ’88 Lines About 44 Women’ (which you might be familiar with from The Brunching Shuttlecocks’ ‘88 Lines About 42 Presidents‘ or the great Luke Ski’s ‘88 Lines About 44 Simpsons‘) though the rhyme scheme is different. It only coincidentally has a similar meter, but once I saw it I decided to go along with it.

**A**xioms are how you ask ‘what if’; just pick some — you decide.

**B**reak it down and every branch of math(s) depends on these.

**C**alculus will help you count the branches that you can’t divide,

**D**ifferentiating the conditions at the boundaries.

**E**lements of Euclid was a textbook for millennia.

**F**unctions follow formulae to map domain to range.

**G**ödel showed some true things can’t be proven, but still many are,

**H**eld without theology as truths that never change.

**I**nconsistent axioms will prove all and its opposite,

**J**eopardising hopes the formal system will be sending forward

**K**nowledge for deriving knowledge-prime or knowledge-composite.

**L**ogic’s only limits are the ones that something’s tending toward.

**M**anifold(s) are ways to bring such limits to geometry.

**N**umerous are non-numeric methods that we use.

**O**ften are two manifolds the same, up to isometry,

**P**roving that(,) there’s gobs of generality to lose.

**Q**uod Erat Demonstrandum quoth inerrant understander,

**R**igorously rational and rooted in the real,

**S**ymbol-shuffling spanning such solution sets with candor,

**T**heorem after theorem or conjecture from ideal.

**U**niversal sets have mathematicians quite inside themselves;

**V**ector spaces set a basis they can build upon.

**W**olfram’s Weisstein’s MathWorld’s website rivals books on many shelves.

**X** rules the domain that functions are dependent on.

**Y**‘s home on the range is the solution set that many seek.

**Z**eno cuts each line in half so drawing it is undefined.

**Alpha**bet is insufficient;

**Beta** hurry onto Greek.

**Gamma** raises complex powers.

**Delta** changes Zeno’s mind.

**Epsilon**‘s so small that

**Zeta** covers the prime landscape sole.

**Eta**‘s very many things;

**Theta**‘s varied just by one

**Iota** in the calculus where

**Kappa** played a founding role.

**Lambda** has a calculus.

**Mu** (micron)’s small, but not-none.

**Nu** math(s) is Tom Lehrer’s nightmare.

**Xi**‘s that universal set.

**Omicron**‘s a small big-O.

**Pi** squares circles’ radii.

**Rho**‘s a row (zeros-out) rank.

**Sigma** sum is all you get.

**Tau** is sometimes phi, 2pi.

**Upsilon**, we wonder, ‘Y?’

**Phi**‘s the golden ratio.

**Chi**-squared ballpark’s on the ball.

**Psi**‘s a polygammous one.

**Omega**hd, there is no end;

**Aleph**-null can yet extend;

**Aleph** one is still too small;

**Beth** one, too, still isn’t all;

**Beth**-two, one can yet transcend.

**Gimel** still can bring you some,

**Daleth** beats continuum.

Now you know your ABC(-Omega-Aleph-NOP)

Out you go to maybe see (oh, mathematicality!)

That math(s) is an infinity (for all things there exists a key!)

And cast it as a trinity (a singular plurality!)

When I decided to do this, I don’t think I realised how many Greek letters there were. In the time it would have taken to finish a normal abecedarius, I was only halfway there, and further motion seemed impossible. Luckily, Zeno was there to sympathise. I also didn’t realise any Hebrew letters after bet were used in mathematics. Apparently Cantor used gimel and daleth for yet bigger infinities. I hope to write a new Forms and Formulae each week, so the later forms had better not be this long. I didn’t always stick to things from the ‘What is Mathematics About’ article, or even that subject. However, I think I conformed to the abecedarius form fairly well; the abecedarius is often used for religious purposes, and I was able to work in that mathematics requires no faith (‘held without theology’) and extends beyond alpha and omega, and also that the differing ways of abbreviating the word in different countries (with or without ‘s’) makes it similar to the three-in-one Christian trinity.

### Drabble: I sure appreciate the way you’re working with me.

Posted by Angela Brett in The Afterlife on October 21, 2013

“I… I th… thought you’d left,” I stammered.

“I came back,” he replied nonchalantly. “It’s not as if I died.” He looked at me accusingly.

“Well, I…”

Such lively eyes staring at me from a deathly face were unnerving. I gave in, and went to get some textbooks.

“Let’s work on something together,” he suggested. “My brain is open.” Indeed it was, but I tried not to look.

Uncertain though I was about the feasibility of living and undead working together, I could not refuse his offer of collaboration. And that’s how I got a late Erdős number of one.

∎

### Unintentional Haiku in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics

Posted by Angela Brett in Haiku Detector on May 18, 2013

I’ve had a copy of the Princeton Companion to Mathematics for a while, and intended to start a series called ‘forms and formulae’, where I’d write about some of the articles using poetic forms from the Princeton Encyclopaedia of Poetry and Poetics (addendum: I have since started a series called Forms and Formulae doing just that.) However, both books are huge and difficult to read on the bus, and the articles are long, so so far all I’ve managed to do in that vein is write a poem about platonic solids in a duel, and procrastinate my way out of writing about the entries whose names were alphabetically closest to Emmental. So I was excited to discover this morning that there is a pdf of the Princeton Companion to Mathematics available for free, apparently legally. Finally I can carry it around with me on my iPad and write poems about it whereever I want. But I don’t even need to do that, now; thanks to Haiku Detector, I can easily find the poems that are already in it. And boy are there some nice ones. Some were missed because Haiku Detector doesn’t know how to pronounce Greek letters and a lot of other mathematical notation, and the book sometimes hyphenates at the ends of lines so it looks like they’re good places for line breaks when they’re not. But these are the best ones I found. First off, some which don’t even sound like they’re about mathematics:

Watch your hand as it

reaches out gracefully to

pick up an object.The difference between

the two definitions of

a secret is huge.These ideas will

occupy us for the rest

of the article.This opens you up

to new influences and

opportunities.In our case, there are

two natural properties

that one should ask for.Suppose that households

are able to observe one

another’s outputs.Everything is now

a martingale and there can

be no arbitrage.The magician can

at once identify which

digit has been changed.This definition

has the advantage of great

flexibility.Let us briefly sketch

the argument, since it is

an instructive one.Moreover, it was

a thought that took many years

to be clarified.The blocks are the sets

of seed varieties used

on the seven farms.

If you didn’t know where it came from, this could be about anything, but it also sums up the appeal of mathematics:

But then again, who

can deny the power of

a glimpse at the truth?

And a more transparent statement about the nature of mathematics:

“All roads lead to Rome,”

and the mathematical

world is “connected.”

But I really love it when you can’t tell it’s about mathematics until the last line:

The answer turns out

to be that we should weaken

our hypotheses.It is important

to have a broad awareness

of mathematics.We will focus on

the most important special

case: vector bundles.Sometimes relations

are defined with reference to

two sets A and B.This remains as an

outstanding open problem

of mathematics.Church’s thesis is

therefore often known as the

Church–Turing thesis.How, though, can we be

sure that this process really

does converge to x?It turns out that both

choices are possible: one

automorphismWe shall now describe

the most important of these

extra assumptions.Several themes balance

in Hilbert’s career as a

mathematician.Indeed, the study

of such designs predates their

use in statistics.This turns out to be

a general fact, valid

for all manifolds.However, it is

a well-understood kind of

singularity.In particular,

we can define the notion

of winding numbers.This is exactly

the task undertaken in

proof complexity.

Questions mathematicians ask themselves:

How much better would

you do if you could compound

this interest monthly?Why are spherical

harmonics natural, and

why are they useful?What consequence should

this have for the dimension

of the Cantor set?Can we reduce this

computational problem

to a smaller one?How about checking

small numbers a, in order,

until one is found?For what values of

the edge-probability

p is this likely?Is every even

number greater than 4 the

sum of two odd primes?Can one make sense of

the notion of a random

continuous path?

Perhaps this is the answer:

In mathematical

research now, there’s a very

clear path of that kind.

This one sounds like some kind of ‘how many roads must a man walk down’ question:

How many walks of

length 2n are there that start

and end at 0?

And while this isn’t actually a haiku, I can imagine it being sung in response to that song, with ‘the number of such walks’ to the tune of ‘the answer my friend’:

The number of such

walks is clearly the same as

W (k − 1).

Mathematicians don’t always answer questions in ways that other people find useful:

If instead we were

to ask each person “How big

is your family?”In particular,

the average family size

becomes infiniteIt follows that at

some intermediate r

the answer changes.

Things only a mathematician would feel the need to state explicitly:

This is a sum of

exponentials — hence the phrase

“exponential sums.”What makes them boring

is that they do not surprise

us in any way.

Proof is left as an exercise for the reader; it probably takes several pages, but:

If you do know it,

then the problem becomes a

simple exercise.Once this relative

primality is noticed,

the proof is easy.All we have to do

is use one more term in the

Taylor expansion.Doing things this way

seems ungainly to us, but

it worked very well.It is not hard to

see that the two approaches

are equivalent.(Of course, one needs to

check that those two expressions

really are equal!)But this subtlety

is not too important in

most applications.

Some interesting statements:

For every person

P there exists a drink D

such that P likes D.That is exactly

what a sphere is: two disks (or

cups) glued together!Thus, recursion is

a bit like iteration

but thought of “backwards.”Nevertheless, it

turns out that there are games that

are not determined.(It can be shown that

there is exactly one map

with this property.)The remainders get

smaller each time but cannot

go below zero.There are other ways

to establish that numbers

are transcendental.(The term “Cartesian

plane” for R2 is therefore

anachronistic.)As usual, we

identify R2 with

the complex plane C.Note that a block of

size 1 simply consists of

an eigenvector.The upshot is that

we should always use a prime

number as our base.Among the other

important number fields are

the cyclotomic fields.Thus we obtain a

number that is less than the

quantity we seek.So we might define

the “points” of a ring R to

be its prime ideals.(For both halves, the pinched

equator is playing the

part of the point s.)Thus, we have deduced

that length-minimizing curves

are geodesics.For example, the

geodesics on the sphere

are the great circles.The generators

correspond to loops around each

of the two circles.The image of this

map will be a closed loop C

(which may cross itself).We consider what

happens to C if we add

a small ball to it.It is not hard to

show that the orbits form a

partition of X.There are many ways

of combining groups that I

have not mentioned here.I have thrown classes

of groups at you thick and fast

in this last section.To apply Newton’s

method, one iterates this

rational function.A quick overview

of physics will be useful

for the discussion.can get away with

not understanding quantum

mechanics at all.The quantum version

of Hamilton’s principle

is due to Feynman.These encapsulate

the idea of a proof

by contradiction.(A graph is simple

if it has neither loops nor

multiple edges.)It is really an

algorithm that inputs

n and outputs an.(An involution

is a permutation that

equals its inverse.)If the tree has 2

vertices, then its code is

the empty sequence.But the number of

possible orders of A,

B, and C is 6.Number theory is

one of the oldest branches

of mathematics.The percolation

and Ising models appear

to be quite different.First, Albert shouts out

a large integer n and

an integer u.

This one is interesting if you imagine it’s about lines of poetry:

Another affine

concept is that of two lines

being parallel.

A mathematical protest slogan:

equality if

and only if x and y

are proportional.

A title of the mathematician’s equivalent of a song about unrequited love:

5.1.5

Why Is It so Difficult

to Prove Lower Bounds?

A series of short films:

10 Differences in

Economic Life among

Similar People

And something said in a soothing tone after a litany during a maths/mass:

Now let us return

to polynomials with

n variables.

The probability of finding a good haiku in the end matter is low, but I think this one’s pretty neat, even if it only has the right syllable counts if you say the ‘and’ in 906 but not 753:

law of large numbers,

753,

906