The Man Who Knew Infinity

Not rated yet!
Director
Matt Brown
Runtime
1 h 48 min
Release Date
8 April 2016
Genres
Drama
Overview
Growing up poor in Madras, India, Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar earns admittance to Cambridge University during WWI, where he becomes a pioneer in mathematical theories with the guidance of his professor, G.H. Hardy.
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  • DERB'S SEPTEMBER DIARY: Are We Getting Smarter/ Dumber? Why Is Chin. Lit So Bad? My Maryland; Etc.
    Quote of the month. “I’m fairly sure that in any but a very advanced society I would have been clubbed to death quite early in life, for the serious offence of not being one of the crowd.” — Peter Hitchens, Daily Mail, March 28th 2016. All right, it’s not precisely a quote from this month; but I read it October 2nd, which is close enough for the September Diary — hey, it’s my Diary. Whatever, it returned a loud echo from my bosom. Are we getting smarter, or dumber? A staple of old Progressive-era Social Darwinism — it was a favorite of my Dad, who formed most of his social philosophy around 1920 — was the notion that human beings in modern societies breed dysgenically. Those with undesirable traits like low intelligence or antisocial personalities have more children than smart and easily-socialized types, while people with inherited physical disabilities are free to pass them on to a new generation. Let’s call this the Dysgenic Hypothesis. This kind of thinking was swept away after WW2, at any rate in the Western world (the Eastern world is a different matter …), by Hitler’s Revenge. As I pointed out a couple of years ago, that’s a bit unfair to Hitler: Mein Kampf … has no index entries for “eugenics.” Certainly Hitler knew about eugenics; but so did every other educated person in the early twentieth century. He saw it as fitting comfortably into his world-view; but so did a great many other people of widely different —mostly Leftist — inclinations. [John Glad’s Future Human Evolution: Eugenics in the Twenty-First Century by John Derbyshire; VDARE.com, April 13th 2014.] In any case, all the buzz in the later twentieth century was about the Flynn Effect (more properly the Lynn-Flynn Effect): rising scores on IQ tests among all groups across the past few decades. It remains true, though, that intelligence and personality are considerably heritable, and that dimwitted and dysfunctional people on average do have more children than bright, well-behaved people, so that the Dysgenic Hypothesis is perfectly plausible. And there is some evidence for it. Most people with any interest at all in the human sciences have heard of the Flynn Effect. Not many have yet heard of the Woodley Effect. This was named (by Charles Murray) for British psychologist Michael A. Woodley. (Who is apparently the same person as Michael Woodley of Balquhain and Menie, 28th Baron of Menie, with whom Donald Trump has recently had some newsworthy business dealings. You can’t write about anything nowadays without The Donald climbing in through a side window.) Woodley studied reaction times — how long it takes a person to respond to a sudden stimulus. It has been known for decades that reaction time correlates strongly with general intelligence, to the degree that it can be used as a quick’n’dirty proxy for IQ. Well, Woodley found that reaction time has been slowing down since the first studies on it were done in the 1880s. He co-published (with two colleagues) a paper on this in 2013, title: Were the Victorians cleverer than us? The decline in general intelligence estimated from a meta-analysis of the slowing of simple reaction time. Last month Woodley and colleagues published a new paper on the topic: Secular Slowing of Auditory Simple Reaction Time in Sweden (1959-1985). James Thompson has a brief write-up here, from which: This is strongly suggestive of a slowing of reaction times in Sweden, itself suggesting a possible drop in mental alertness and intelligence in that country. If the Flynn effect were a deep-seated real improvement in functioning then one would expect faster reaction times, not slower. An alarming result, worthy of further testing and attention. So what’s going on here? “We’re getting smarter” and “We’re getting dumber” can’t both be true, can they? If the Flynn Effect is real, the Woodley Effect can’t be, and vice versa — right? Not necessarily. The structure of intelligence is complex, and our understanding of it imperfect. (Neither of those statements is synonymous with the Cultural Marxist dogma that there is no such thing as intelligence; or that if there is such a thing, it’s impossible to quantify it; and that if you believe anything to the contrary, you are an Enemy of the People.) A body of water with a surface current going thisway may have an undertow going that way. Woodley himself offered the following to an interviewer: The Flynn effect might be hiding an underlying decline, a “psychometric dark matter” not visible on pen-and-paper intelligence tests, Woodley said. “An analogy to use would be lower-quality seeds, but higher-quality fertilizers,” he said, referring to this idea that a high-quality environment may be masking the decline in “smart” genes. There is nothing final here, and I’d like to see some replication of Woodley’s results; but this may be a case of us re-learning something our forebears — in my case, my dear old Dad — had already figured out a hundred years ago. It’s a contractor’s world, we just live in it. There is now a steady flow of books and articles heralding the advent of a world without work. From the latter of those links: Some day, probably not in our lifetimes but perhaps not long after, machines will be able to do most of the tasks that people can. At that point, a truly workless world should be possible. If everyone, not just the rich, had robots at their beck and call, then such powerful technology would free them from the need to submit to the realities of the market to put food on the table. Uh-huh. In so far as I am concerned about this, which is not very far, I am less concerned now than I was a month ago. That’s because of a conversation I had with a friend who works as a contractor, fixing up houses and workplaces. He: “There’s terrific demand. We can’t keep up. Not enough guys. That’s why you see so many illegals doing it.” Me: “Come on. Does the U.S.A. need so many contractors?” ORDER IT NOWHe: “You kidding? Take a look up and down your street.” [I live in an ordinary residential street in the outer-outer suburbs of New York City.] “How many houses?” [Answer: forty.] “They all need work some of the time. Next time you walk your dog, count how many contractor vehicles you see outside those houses.” [I did. There were five: a roofer, a plumber, two landscapers, and a team taking down a big old tree. Five out of forty — twelve and a half percent!] “That’s one street in one town …” He’s right, of course. My whole view of the world shifted slightly. I know about contractors, of course, and use them when I have to; but I have rarely thought about them between times. Now I see my neighborhood as more like one of those colonies of social insects, kept orderly and functioning only by the tireless ministrations of contractor-ants. And what they do is harder to automate than supermarket checkout. Right now I’m doing some work on my own house, putting up drywall and spackling it. Spackling is tricky. I’ve read handyman books and watched YouTube clips, and I still can’t get the hang of it. I bet a lot of college-grad middle-class occupations — lawyering, doctoring — are more vulnerable to automation than is drywall spackling. Come on, Derb (you may say), who needs drywall spacklers? Nowadays we can print a house. That’s great; but what about the houses we already have, like the forty in my street? People will go on living in them for a hundred years or so. They’ll need contractors. In fact, with population growth leveling off, what need is there to print houses? We have all we can use. It just wants contractors to keep ’em in shape. My friend also told me about the absurdly low standards for getting a contractor license in our county. “You take a test, but it’s just ethical questions. ‘Should you insist on full payment before you start?’ That kind of thing. They never ask whether you know how to use a spirit level, nor even a tape measure — never mind power tools.” I am wiser now. This is a contractor’s world; we just live in it. The ch-word. This summer I have been a martyr to small biting creatures. It’s never happened before; I suppose I must have undergone some metabolic change that’s made my blood tastier to tiny predators. It can’t be geographical: I’m living in the same house I’ve lived in since 1992. It’s definitely not Global Warming: No-one else I know has been extraordinarily bitten. Having no experience in this zone, I assumed the attackers were mosquitoes. Those insects were indeed implicated; but I felt and often saw them biting me, usually in time to splat them. Yet there were many more bites that I never felt happening. A painful red welt would come up out of nowhere, and linger for days. I consulted a knowledgeable friend, and displayed a sample welt on my arm to him. He scrutinized it, asked me some questions, then delivered his diagnosis: “Chiggers.” So far as I can recall this was only the second time in my life I’ve met that word. The first time was thirty years ago, when I was reading Tom Wolfe’s great novel The Bonfire of the Vanities. In that book there is a character named Gene Lopwitz, super-rich head of a Wall Street trading firm. In his personal office, in a modern office tower in downtown Manhattan, Lopwitz has had a fireplace installed at immense cost and much regulatory wrangling, just because he can. He doesn’t actually use it, though. The chiggers … Lopwitz had used the fireplace for just about two months and then never again. One day, while sitting at his desk, he had suffered an intense itching and burning sensation on the underside of his left buttock. Fiery red blisters he had …Chigger bites … The only plausible deduction was that somehow chiggers had found their way to the fiftieth floor, to the mighty bond trading floor of Pierce & Pierce, in a load of firewood for the hearth and had bitten the baron on the bottom. I feel his pain. These are the nastiest little critters you should hope never to meet — not even honest insects, but “trombiculid mites,” a type of arachnid, barely visible to the naked eye. How did I get through my whole life without ever encountering chiggers before? I don’t know; but I’ve made the acquaintance now, and I am bent on revenge. Born on the … when? The fifteenth anniversary of 9/11 came and went. Our kids were small when the attack happened; ages eight and six. The eight-year-old has a friend in our street the same age, but whose birthday is … September 11th. I’d forgotten that. My wife reminded me: “Poor little Louise! [Not her real name.] She took cookies to school that day; but they let the kids out early, she had to take them home.” On a statistical basis, 0.2738 percent of the population — more than nine hundred thousand souls — share a birthday with Louise, and the atrocity. Are there any psychological effects, I wonder? It’s rackets all the way down. The other day a friend remarked that to a fair first approximation, everything’s a racket. I think he’s right. Health care? I am reliably informed that in Russia there are mansions with twelve bedrooms and gold-plated bath fixtures, sitting in a hundred acres and stuffed with expensive bling, all paid for by scamming Medicare. Welfare is a racket, eveyone knows that. The resettlement of “refugees” in the U.S.A. is a racket, as Ann Corcoran has documented in devastating detail. Education is one vast racket. Our high schools have entire wings populated by Administrative Assistants to the Administrative Assistant. Municipal Departments of Education are infested with parasites like this one. Colleges? Fugeddaboutit. High finance? I settled into my first job at an investment bank just as the Savings & Loan crisis was making landfall. I didn’t even know what a Savings & Loan was, had to have it explained to me. “It’s the 3-6-3 crowd,” my colleagues told me. “They borrow money at three percent, lend it out at six percent, and they’re on the golf course by three p.m.” So, a racket. And the racketeering didn’t stop when the S&Ls went under. I’m hoping the military isn’t a racket, although recollections of Sergeant Bilko and Milo Minderbinder sometimes disturb my hope. Whatever the case is with the actual military, the Veterans Administration is looking like a racket: ORDER IT NOW Millions in equipment went missing over a five-year period from 2010 to 2015, according to an extensive investigation from KXAN News. The property included medial equipment, TVs, cellphones and a John Deere tractor, as just a few examples. [Millions Of Dollars Worth Of Equipment Has Vanished From Texas VA Facilities, by Jonah Bennett; Daily Caller, September 28th 2016.] The biggest racket of all is of course politics, as the Clintons amply demonstrate. Disgust with this accounts for a lot of Donald Trump’s support. There are many negative things you can say about Trump, some of them fairly, but you can’t say he’s in it for the money. Too much stuff. I’ve been reading Göran Malmqvist’s biography of the great Swedish sinologist Bernhard Karlgren. In 1905, when Bernhard was fifteen, his father died suddenly. He had been a high school teacher (Latin, Greek, and Swedish) in the modest Swedish city of Jönköping. Malmqvist gives us an inventory of his estate taken after his death: Cash 278 Crowns (about a fifth of his annual salary), his wardrobe (presumably including some clothes), a gravy-boat and a gravy-spoon of silver, a watch and a gold ring, and books valued at 200 Crowns. The Karlgrens lived in rented rooms. What an explosion of stuff there has been since 1905! I’m at about the same social level as Karlgren, Sr. — there are a couple of high-school teachers in my neighborhood — but I own vastly more stuff: A house, two cars, a bicycle, furniture, appliances, tools, computers, TV, … And, of course, books up the Wazoo. (Where is the Wazoo?) Malmqvist is a big wheel in sinology, and a member of the Swedish Academy, which means he has a vote on who gets the Nobel Prize in Literature. I met him when I was studying for my P.G. Dip. Chin. in London thirty-six years ago. His wife was the sister of Jingzu Chen, our chief instructress. Malmqvist favored us with a 45-minute lecture. It was about the use of the particle 其 in certain classical texts. The lecture was, to the best of my recollection, … definitive. Chin. Lit. Another visiting speaker on that Chinese course was Brian Hook from the University of Leeds. He gave us a lecture on modern Chinese literature. I remember his opening sentence for that lecture: “The main thing we have to ask about modern Chinese literature is: Why is none of it much good?” I suppose that would be counted as some kind of racist microaggression nowadays. I am in no position to pass an opinion on the topic myself, having engaged as a reader with only one work of twentieth-century Chinese literature in the original Chinese. Prof. Hook made a case, though. Based on an English-language book I’ve been reading this month, unless a very great deal has been lost in translation, the case is not a bad one. This is The Big Red Book of Modern Chinese Literature, edited by Prof. Yunte Huang of the University of California, Santa Barbara. There are a few gems here. I liked the sweaty sub-eroticism of Wang Anyi’s Love in a Small Town, for instance. There’s a lot of stuff that is tedious to read, though. The poetry is awful, even after making allowance for the old Italian quip about poems in translation being like women: “The faithful ones aren’t beautiful, and the beautiful ones aren’t faithful.” (I guess that’s a sexist microaggression. Don’t come here looking for political correctness.) Prof. Huang has actually included some of Chairman Mao’s poems, along with some excerpts from the dictator’s Little Red Book, to the indignation of one distinguished reviewer. Prof. Huang redeemed himself somewhat in my eyes for including quite long extracts from Ba Jin’s 1931 novel Family, the one Chinese novel I’ve engaged with in the original. I say “engaged with” because I never actually finished the darn thing. Jingzu — we are back in my P.G. Dip. Chin. days — had me construe a chapter every week. Then we’d have a one-on-one seminar where I’d read out the Chinese, followed by my translation, and submit to her criticism. Unfortunately this was a one-year course. The novel has forty chapters, and there are not forty weeks in an academic year. I didn’t get more than halfway through Family, and have only now learned from Prof. Huang’s extracts what happened to poor little Mingfeng (though I could see it coming). The high point of my rather dismal career as a student of Chinese Lit. was my translation of the chapter in Family where, at a New Year’s banquet, the young adults are playing a literary word-game. Each quotes a line of classical verse; then the next in turn has to quote a line whose first character is the last character of the previous quote. (I’m working from memory here; I don’t guarantee accuracy; my translation is long lost, alas.) Now that’s a translation challenge. You tou wu wei say the Chinese: “It has a head but no tail,” meaning you shouldn’t leave things unfinished. I guess I should finish reading Family in the original. I will, I will, … when I’m retired. States of mind. We closed out the month with a long-weekend visit to friends on the Maryland shore. A very enjoyable time was had by all, including Toby, Hound of the Derbyshires. I had never been to this region before. The topography is very striking to the eye. To someone raised in England, it looks like the Norfolk Broads, but not so reedy. “Very flat, Norfolk,” says one of Noël Coward’s characters. (And of course, that being England, there are poems about the place.) One minor takeaway from our visit was that I now know the correct pronunciation of “Maryland.” I had naïvely been saying “Ma-ry-land,” with three distinct plonking syllables. Nope: it’s “MURRuh-lund” … except, I was told, in Baltimore, where the locals have trimmed it all the way down to one syllable: “Murln.” Good to get these things right. You don’t want to sound like a rube. Math Corner. I finally got to see the Ramanujan movie, The Man Who Knew Infinity. I thought it not bad: about a seven on a zero-to-ten scale. A couple of people had told me that the movie is obnoxiously anti-white. I see their point: there are scenes of Ramanujan, who was dark-skinned, being openly insulted, and in one case beaten up, by leering white racists out of the CultMarx demonology. These incidents are not in Robert Kanigel’s book, on which the movie is based. Kanigel allows that “Sometimes … Indians experienced downright racial prejudice.” However, he attributes Ramanujan’s social problems to his inability — shared by foreigners of all colors a hundred years ago — to penetrate the chronic “aloofness and reserve” of the English. ORDER IT NOWI suppose the movie producers thought that a movie about a dark-skinned man in early twentieth-century England needed spicing up with some anti-racism porn. “Thought” is in fact probably too strong a word: they just instinctively assumedthis, the way you instinctively assume that if taken to see someone’s garden, you will find some flowers in evidence. This is the cultural atmosphere we live in, and breathe. I’m so inured to it — and so happy to see a halfway-factual movie about a great mathematician — I wasn’t much bothered by it. Your mileage may vary. Oh, you want a brainteaser? OK, here’s a fairly easy one. The Ramanujan movie of course includes the famous taxicab incident. Once, in the taxi from London, Hardy noticed its number, 1729. He must have thought about it a little because he entered the [hospital] room where Ramanujan lay in bed and, with scarcely a hello, blurted out his disappointment with it. It was, he declared, “rather a dull number,” adding that he hoped that wasn’t a bad omen. “No, Hardy,” said Ramanujan, “it is a very interesting number. It is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two [positive] cubes in two different ways.” [1³ + 12³ and 9³ + 10³.] That number, 1729, has another interesting and rare property. What is it? Hint: Add up the digits. John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjectsfor all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. ) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He’s had two books published by VDARE.com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and From the Dissident Right II: Essays 2013. His writings are archived atJohnDerbyshire.com. ]]>
    ...
    (Review Source)
  • February Diary: High Yellers (?); Politics/ Smartphone Fatigue; Irish Gangsters; Etc.
    (”The Man Who Knew Infinity” is briefly mentioned in this.)
    Quote of the Month. “The faintest of all human passions is the love of truth.” — A.E. Housman. Yellow journalism. In the February 19th podcast of Radio Derb, in reference to the Superbowl halftime show, I quoted a correspondent as telling me: “From the still pics, all of the dancers were ‘high yella,’ as is Beyoncé …” For my signout music that week I played a clip of Leadbelly singing Yellow Gal.” I told my correspondent I thought “high yaller” was the more correct form for persons of this tint; and I pronounced it that way in the podcast. That got me into conversation with several listeners. Which is more correct, “high yella” or “high yaller”? I was sure I’d heard it as “high yaller.” Leadbelly isn’t much help: He plainly sings “yallo,” which is neither the one thing nor the other. My original correspondent came back with: I checked. Yeller, yaller, yellah, yella, … You are right about the frequency of “yaller” on the Web, but “high yellah” and “high yella” appear to be much more frequent as user names. The former (“yellah”) is the one I seem to recall from U.S. literature. Probably a regional difference to start with, and the Web enforces the second of the four variants. According to a poster on Urban Dictionary, “yella” is the original form … I know UD is full of crap much of the time, but the writer of the entry is fairly convincing (and the example of usage at the end gave me a giggle). “Yaller” and “yeller” appear to be northern forms. Thanks, Ma’am. Slang City also seems to prefer “yeller.” Disney gave us Old Yeller, but that’s a different context, nothing to do with colored folk. A friend who is au courant with the contemporary pop music world (I stopped listening to pop music back in the Ford administration) tells me that Beyoncé’s husband, Mr Jay-Z, refers to her in his 2009 song “Off That” as his “high yellow broad.” Here are the lyrics, but I have no stomach to listen to an actual recording — you can only ask so much of a guy — so I don’t know whether Mr Jay-Z says “yella” or “yaller.” On balance here, I think I’m going to have to concede to the advocates of “yeller.” The clincher is my recollection of that old 1920s pop song “Black Bottom,” in which we hear about: Old fellas with lumbago With high yellers, away they go … You need that short “e” to sing it right. (Seeking but failing to find a clip sung to the original lyrics, the nearest I got was Dorothy Provine ca. 1960; but Dorothy sings: Old fellas with lumbago And young fellas, away they go … Political Correctness has been around longer than we think, I guess.) Too much politics. Had enough politics yet? I’ll admit to suffering from politics fatigue. You can picture me as the old dude in R.C. Woodville’s oyster house. Eight more months of this? Good grief! Let’s try to be constructive about it, though. Is there anything we can do to reduce the politicking? One of my readers has a suggestion that I don’t recall seeing elsewhere, though I suppose in two and a quarter centuries someone else must have thought of it. My reader: If I were an American, I would favor a constitutional amendment that would extend the term of office of Representatives to 4 years and of Senators to 8 years. That would eliminate mid-term elections and reduce the expense of elections, and thereby decrease the power of rich donors. I would definitely sign on to that. The devil makes work for idle thumbs. If there was ever any doubt that the smartphone was brought to us by Satan, this story from across the pond should settle the matter. A British hairdresser was sentenced to life in prison last week after she plunged a knife into her boyfriend’s heart — because she felt he spent too much time on Facebook. Terri-Marie Palmer, 23, broke down in tears as she was convicted of 24-year-old Damon Searson’s murder … Moments before the killing, Palmer posted: “He p***** me off sitting on Facebook, completely blanking me when I’m talking to him …” She regularly posted on the social media site about how Searson would ignore her while scrolling through Facebook messages on his phone, adding random girls and posting shirtless photos of himself. [Woman killed boyfriend for spending too much time on Facebook by Sophia Rosenbaum; New York Post, February 22, 2016.] I’m not surprised. To my way of thinking, nothing says “The 21st century sucks” like the sight of healthy young people walking around with their eyes locked on those fool gadgets, doing that thing with their thumbs. The latest trend is to move statuary out of public places so that the gadget-gazers won’t walk into them. [Sculpture moved after texters kept bumping into it by Luke Roney; USA Today, February 22nd 2016.] I myself have of course resisted the Tempter. I have a flip-phone that I can make calls on, that’s all. The forces of darkness never prevail for long; sooner or later humanity will return to the path of righteousness and ditch its smartphones. This may in fact be happening. In January, British actor Eddie Redmayne made headlines around the world as he became the latest in a growing band of smartphone refuseniks. “It was a reaction against being glued permanently to my iPhone during waking hours,” he explained, turning instead to an old-fashioned “dumb phone” handset that could only make and take calls. He is not alone. There is a small but busy market for phones that are simple and cheap at a time when smartphones are becoming ever more complex and expensive. [Digitally weary users switch to “dumb” phones by Daniel Thomas; Financial Times, February 22nd 2016.] All strength to Mr Redmayne, whoever he is. Dump that phone, reader! … unless, of course, you’re using it to access VDARE.com … Middlebrow fiction find of the month. In my December diary I mentioned one of George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman novels. That prompted a reader to recommend John Biggins’ Prohaska novels to me. My reader: ORDER IT NOW Like the Flashman series, they are the supposed reminiscences of an elderly man, but the hero (Otto Prohaska) is not a coward, bully or bounder, although he’s not exactly an innocent, either. The novels … are extremely well written and, best of all, are well-researched and provide some insight into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Always on the lookout for good middlebrow fiction, I gave the first Prohaska novel a try, and was hooked at once. At month’s end I am halfway through the fourth book, and I’m sorry there are only four. Biggins knows an astounding amount about the Dual Monarchy in its later years: its bizarre salad of ethnicities, its arthritic bureaucracy, and its military equipment. He catches very nicely, too, its legendary atmosphere of ironic fatalism: “In Berlin the situation is serious but not hopeless; in Vienna things are hopeless, but not serious.” I have recommended the Biggins books to my friend and VDARE.com colleague Prof. Paul Gottfried, whose father was born in Budapest under the Dual Monarchy. Prof. Gottfried is the only person I know — possibly the only person extant — that describes himself as “a k.u.k. loyalist.” WARNING: Though not without human interest, these are guy books, with lots of Tom Clancy-style detail about WW1-era planes, ships, and submarines. Also, like most books written in the unhappy period between publishers’ abandonment of rigorous proof-reading in the 1970s and the rise of the computerized spell-check in the 1990s, they have a small number of mis-spellings of the more forgivable kind in both English (“miniscule”) and German (“dienstauglich”). The author’s renderings of Polish, Czech, Serbo-Croat, Hungarian, and Italian, I’ll take on faith. The Sicily of the British Isles. Irish mobsters are in the news. The press was barred from getting close to the flamboyant funeral Monday of David Byrne, 34, a reputed key underworld figure, according to multiple Irish media accounts. Byrne was gunned down in a brutal revenge killing at a boxing match weigh-in on Feb. 5, a murder followed by yet another retaliatory hit a few days later — both of which led to the threats to reporters. For a British- or Irish-born reader, this is a comforting continuity piece, telling us that things are as they were and nothing much changes. In my experience, Americans — including Irish-Americans — do not know that Ireland, with all its undoubted charms and accomplishments, is the Sicily of the British Isles. Here is a personal anecdote. In my college years I worked construction in the summer vacations. In the particular summer of 1965 I worked as a laborer on a site in the center of my home town: Northampton, in the East Midlands of England. Northampton is a very old town. At some point in the Middle Ages several brick-lined tunnels were dug beneath the town center, I forget why. Our site was above one of these tunnels. A section of tunnel, accessible by steps, had been closed off at its ends with rubble for us to use as a break hut. At midday we would go down there to eat our lunch. The other laborers were mostly Irishmen: sturdy peasant lads from the country towns and villages of Western Ireland. One was named Michael Shaughnessy, a lively and quick-witted young fellow who was as Irish-looking as it is possible to be. Well, we were sitting there one day eating our lunch and making idle conversation when a stranger came down the steps into our cave. Sharply dressed and well-groomed even by provincial English street standards, he was strikingly out of place among us navvies in our work boots and dungarees, our hair caked with cement dust. All conversation ceased. The stranger, who was plainly used to being in command of situations, let the silence hang for a few beats. Then, speaking softly in an Irish accent, he said: “I’m told there is a Michael Shaughnessy here.” Michael spoke up: “I’m Michael Shaughnessy.” The stranger fixed his gaze on Michael, and dragged out another little silence. As unworldly as I was at age twenty, at this point I realized that something was going on. The stranger spoke again: “Michael Shaughnessy from Dundrum?” (That’s a suburb of Dublin. There are also towns of this name elsewhere in Ireland; but referred to with no qualifier like this, outside Ireland, you’d assume the Dublin suburb is what’s meant.) “No,” said Michael. “I’m from Connemara.” (Which was true. The Irishmen all knew where each other came from, and mentioned it often. The Connemara lads were in fact something of an elect among the laborers.) Another short silence. Hear a pin drop? You could have heard a neutrino pass through. “Ye’ll excuse me, then,” said the stranger. He turned and left. We never saw him again. There was much discussion afterwards. The sense of the meeting was that wherever Michael Shaughnessy of Dundrum might be, if our visitor should find him, he’d be in a world of hurt. Getting right with McWhorter. In the January 29th Radio Derb I declared my intention to mend bridges with with linguist (in the academic, not the colloquial sense: not a guy who speaks lots of languages, but a guy who studies language) John McWhorter: I really have to get right with McWhorter. He’s addressing one of my dinner clubs in March, so I’ll be chowing down on rubber chicken across the table from him. A couple of years ago I reviewed one of his books in a way that displeased him somehow; a mutual acquaintance told me he was grumbling about it. I forget the grounds of his complaint, but I’ll try to get right with him. I don’t know how the bridge-mending will go; but possibly influenced in part by that intention, my February purchase from the Great Courses Company was McWhorter’s 36 lectures on “The Story of Human Language.” Good interesting stuff, and nothing like as demanding as my previous selection,Prof. Joordens’ lectures on memory. Just the thing to listen to while walking the dog, in fact. McWhorter has a pleasant, easy manner, too. This passage from Lecture 7, “How Language Changes — Modern English,” returned an echo from my bosom, and I imagine would have the same effect on a great many educated people: ORDER IT NOW I will openly admit that except when I have read a Shakespeare play … when I go and hear it “cold,” at normal speed, I don’t understand enough to make the evening worth it. I don’t like to admit it: I learned long ago that you’re not supposed to say so: but it’s true. And even as somebody who loves languages and is pretty familiar with English and all of its historical layers, I have seen The Tempest not once, not twice, but three times, never having gotten down to reading that particular play, I have never known what in the world was going on in that play. And I seriously doubt if I’m alone. I’m sure he’s not alone. If the good Prof has that much trouble with The Tempest, though, I advise him to give a wide berth to Cymbeline: To remark the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the conduct, the confusion of the names and manners of different times, and the impossibility of the events in any system of life, were to waste criticism on unresisting imbecillity, upon faults too evident for detection, and too gross for aggravation. [Samuel Johnson, Notes to Shakespeare (1765).] Je suis circonflexe. One more on the language beat: The French are killing off the circumflex. The circumflex (French “circonflexe”) is the little pointed “hat” you see over vowels like the “e” in “tête.” Well, the French have decided it’s a nuisance. As of this September, it’ll be optional in school textbooks. As a conservative, I suppose I should deplore this. Conservatives in France certainly do: they have started up a Twitter hashtag “#JeSuisCirconflexe.” Frankly, though, I have to say, tout ça m’est bien égal. The distance between French spelling and French pronunciation is already so wide, I can’t see that it makes any difference. Say what you like about the Germans, but at least they pronounce every single damn consonant. And ever fewer of us are willing to learn French anyway. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that the study of French is dying in the English-speaking world; and who can blame pupils for dropping what is a difficult subject? I certainly would have. I hated French at school, mainly because I was no good at it, and only in my late 20s fell in love with all things Gallic, and started taking evening classes. By then, of course, it was an uphill struggle: life gets busier, and the brain finds it harder to absorb new ideas — which is why, one-by-one, our musical tastes, political views and haircuts get stuck at whatever age we gave up on trying new things. (I’m not quitting: after all, Alfred the Great learned Latin in his 40s, and he had the Vikings to contend with.) My reading has improved but my spoken French is still reminiscent of the undercover British agent in ‘Allo ‘Allo. It’s oddly paradoxical that this decline … happened at the same time that a new generation of progressive Britons embraced cosmopolitanism and cultural diversity. It often seems that this enthusiasm was more in the abstract. One can be keen on having lots of foreign restaurants nearby yet still be strangely incurious about other cultures. [The long adieu: how Britain gave up learning French by Ed West; Daily Telegraph, January 22nd 2016.] Back to work. St Valentine’s Day (no, not just a Hallmark Holiday: it’s in Chaucer and Shakespeare), in my mental map of the year, usually marks the end of the Long Holiday Season: Halloween Thanksgiving Christmas New Year Chinese New Year St Valentine’s Day I say “usually” because Chinese New Year falls later than St Valentine’s Day about one year in five. Whatever: For three and a half months there is candy to be put out, family gatherings to supervise, trees to put up, cards to be sent, gifts to be gifted, special meals to be prepared, friends to entertain or be entertained by … Then, nothing much in that line until a barbecue on the Fourth. This is a complete change from one’s school and college years, when the long summer vacation was the relaxation zone, and September the back-in-harness month. When was the transition? When we had kids, of course. Kids change everything. OK, back on the treadmill. Give me a hand up there, would ya? Math Corner. February 28th brought us the Oscars. Having zero interest in showbiz, and irritated near to suicide by the event being made yet another outlet for whining about “white privilege,” I didn’t watch them. They did remind me, though, that there’s a movie I’m keen to see. This is the film version of Robert Kanigel’s 1991 book about Srinivasa Ramanujan. The first I heard of it was an article in the February Notices of the AMS. (If you don’t know the Ramanujan story, it is adequately told at the University of St Andrews math biography site. In briefest outline: A poor man from an obscure provincial town in the far south of India, at age 15 Ramanujan chanced upon a handbook of mathematical results. Working up from that, and mostly alone, Ramanujan recreated quite large parts of 18th- and 19th-century math. Cambridge mathematician G.H. Hardy brought him to England in 1914. Ramanujan did some brilliant work; but he suffered from TB and died in 1920 at age 32.) The movie has the same name as the book: The Man Who Knew Infinity. Jeremy Irons plays the role of G.H. Hardy; Jeremy Northam is Bertrand Russell. Robert Kanigel’s book is excellent, that silly title notwithstanding. (Ramanujan “knew infinity” neither better nor worse than any other mathematician working in analytical number theory. This may not be the author’s fault, though; titles are sometimes imposed by publishers.) Here is the final paragraph of Kanigel’s main narrative. In South India today, everyone has heard of Ramanujan. College professors and bicycle rickshaw drivers alike know his story, at least in sketchy outline, just as everyone in the West knows of Einstein. Few can say much about his work, and yet something in the story of his struggle for the chance to pursue his work on his own terms compels the imagination, leaving Ramanujan a symbol for genius, for the obstacles it faces, for the burdens it bears, for the pleasure it takes in its own existence. The Notices say this new movie was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival last September; but Netflix lists it for 2016 release and not yet on DVD. Something to look out for if you’re a math geek — or just if you like an improbable true story with a high pathos quotient. To the degree Ramanujan is known at all outside the world of math, it’s for the taxicab incident. MathWorld tells the story. ORDER IT NOWJohn Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjectsfor all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. ) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He’s had two books published by VDARE.com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and From the Dissident Right II: Essays 2013. His writings are archived atJohnDerbyshire.com. ]]>
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The Federalist Staff1
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  • 'The Man Who Knew Infinity' Celebrates True Human Achievement
    A few cinematographic tributes to mathematicians and scientists have been made for public consumption, most notably “A Beautiful Mind” about John Nash in 2001, starring Russell Crowe. Now a new film, “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” tells about Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920), starring Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire”) as the lead character along with Jeremy Irons as G. H. Hardy (1877-1947) and Toby Jones as John Littlewood (1885-1977). The movie, with limited showings, is based on an eponymous biography by Robert Kanigel, published in 1991. The film, described by Pennsylvania State professor George Andrews, tells the story of a self-taught clerk in Madras (present-day Chennai), located in southern India. At age 16, Ramanujan borrowed “A Synopsis of Elementary Results in Pure Mathematics” by George Carr. That 1886 reference included almost 5,000 theorems, which Ramanujan labored to prove. Paper being expensive, Ramanujan developed these proofs on a slate board, then transferred select formulas to a notebook. In 1913, he wrote to Hardy, the aloof academic don at Cambridge University, for assistance. Ramanujan included some of his theorems, including this one  offered without proof. Hardy recognized the talent behind the author and invited him to Cambridge for collaboration. Ramanujan initially declined due to Brahmin injunctions on travel abroad, since he was a devout believer in the goddess Namagiri. Hardy arranged an appointment at the Presidency College in Madras, and after a vision Ramanujan relented. Leaving his wife and mother behind, Ramanujan stayed in England five years, from 1914-1919. Although well-paid for his efforts, the chilly climate, scarcity of vegetarian cuisine, wartime tensions, and absence of family intensified his loneliness. His contributions however, were notably appreciated. A Formidable Mathematical Mind His first paper at Cambridge described series approximations to pi (π). His longest paper was devoted to properties of highly composite numbers. These are positive integers that have more divisors than any smaller positive integer. Examples and their prime factorization include the fifth: 12=22×3, tenth: 120=23×3×5, twentieth: 7,560=23×33×5×7, and so forth. The concept can be traced to Plato ,who set the ideal number of urban citizens at 5,040 (the nineteenth such number). Ramanujan received his BA, later renamed PhD, for this contribution. One film scene adapts Hardy’s famous anecdote about the ‘taxicab number’ that highlighted Ramanujan’s prodigious skills. One film scene adapts Hardy’s famous anecdote about the “taxicab number” that highlighted Ramanujan’s prodigious skills. The movie depicts this encounter on the street, rather than during Ramanujan’s convalescence. As Hardy relates in a 1921 article, “I remember once going to see him when he was ill at Putney. I had ridden in taxi cab number 1729 and remarked that the number seemed to me rather a dull one, and that I hoped it was not an unfavorable omen. ‘No,’ he replied, ‘it is a very interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two (positive) cubes in two different ways.’” That is, 1,729 is one-cubed plus 12-cubed and also 9-cubed plus 10-cubed (or algebraically 1729=13+123=93+103). The next such numbers are 4,104, 13,832, and 20,683. The movie’s finale centers on Ramanujan’s election as a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Fellow of Trinity College, the first Indian so honored. Returning to India’s warmer climate, Ramanujan further worked on mock theta functions (with asymptotic expansions at the cusps). His last writings were rediscovered in 1976 and published as the Lost Notebook. Unfortunately, his precarious health continued to deteriorate, and he died in 1920, possibly from hepatic amoeblasis. The film presents this melancholy announcement in a letter to Hardy. Math Is Really Important Even If You Don’t Get It The importance of mathematics is difficult to exaggerate, but its concepts can be decidedly non-intuitive. Ironically, our prehistoric ancestors most likely invented tally counting well before symbolic writing (and perhaps contemporaneously with cave art). The Ishango bone has notches on a baboon fibula dating from the upper Paleolithic (about 20 millennia ago). Although most ancient peoples were illiterate, the expression of numbers had importance in mutually acknowledged obligations, as mentioned in Luke 16:5-7, whether these bills were written on papyrus or potsherds. Mathematical prodigies pioneer solutions and proofs, but for most of us, these techniques must be conscientiously taught and laboriously learned. The infrequent instances in which cinema glimpses renown genius deserve praise as illumination of achievement and inspiration to follow. Not everyone agrees. The Guardian published a review that dismisses the film for tepid efforts to explain or display the mathematics Ramanujan derived, focusing instead on personal experiences. This seems unfair to the film’s creators, as the minimum level of mathematical recognition at research levels exceeds the depths of courses many engineering and science students take, never mind what the general public understands. An example might suffice: the well-known waitress integral joke (abbreviated here). Two mathematicians sit in a bar. The pessimist says to the optimist that the average person knows very little about basic mathematics. The optimist disagrees, and asserts that most people can cope with a reasonable amount of mathematics. The pessimist goes to the restroom, and in his absence the optimist calls over the waitress. He tells her that after his friend has returned, he will ask her a question. All she has to do is answer “one third x cubed.” She agrees, and leaves mumbling to herself, “wun thir dex kyoobed…” After the pessimist returns, the optimist proposes a bet to prove his point—to ask the waitress an integral, and the pessimist laughingly accepts. The optimist calls the waitress and asks her, “What is the integral of x squared?” For those below the rarefied heights, mathematics provides analytical tools with which to understand the universe and manipulate its components. The waitress replies “one third x cubed” and, while walking away, turns back and mutters “plus a constant!” Our children heard this effort at humor, but didn’t grasp its meaning until they took calculus and could distinguish between definite and indefinite integrals. Converging infinite series can seem abstract, as exemplified by Zeno’s paradox, traversing a distance in continued halves (½+¼+⅛+…) but never reaching the goal. By incrementing time in the same manner, one can deduce the speed for that travel. Mathematical prodigies pioneer solutions and proofs, but for most of us, these techniques must be conscientiously taught and laboriously learned. “The Man Who Knew Infinity” offers a glimpse of that talent, roughly a century after Ramanujan’s tenure in England. Mathematics grants access to truth and beauty to those who can read its peculiar language and syntax. For those below the rarefied heights, mathematics provides analytical tools with which to understand the universe and manipulate its components. Maybe such aspirations seem arrogant to those drawn to central planning through political aggrandizement. But such seekers of power desire what participants in technology provide—recall Stalin’s admonition, “Leave them alone; we can always shoot them later.” Sometimes the well-deserving receive rewards instead of the firing squad—and “The Man Who Knew Infinity” presents such a tribute. ]]>
    ...
    (Review Source)

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