The margins of decision-making can be fine. This morning I awoke with a mild sore throat and a headache. In normal circumstances I would not give any thought to these very minor symptoms: but these are not normal times and, being a dutiful citizen, I contemplate the need to self-isolate.Continue reading
In her poem ‘A Woman in Love’, the mathematician and poet Sarah Glaz describes herself as seeing ‘a streak of mathematics/ in almost everything’. The title of her collection of mathematical poetry, Ode to Numbers, is taken from a poem by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda which invokes the passion of mathematical curiosity, the urge to understand the mysteries of the universe in quantified terms, the desire ‘to know/ how many/ stars in the sky’(Neruda, 1999).Continue reading
When my husband and I first moved to Aberdeen in 1983, we stayed briefly in a house on Clerk Maxwell Crescent. It shames me now to admit that at the time I had only the vaguest idea who James Clerk Maxwell was, despite having studied electromagnetism as part of my undergraduate degree.Continue reading
Mosi-oa-Tunya – the Smoke that Thunders, also known as the Victoria Falls – straddles the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. From its broad, smooth-flowing course across a flat basalt plain the Zambezi river suddenly plummets down a fissure in the rock, foaming and churning into the narrow gorge over a hundred metres below. I remember visiting in my childhood: the roar of water, the arc of rainbows in the drenching spray, the smell of wet vegetation, the unprotected edge.Continue reading
that divergent guide my life
are like two teams of horses
straining at my heart.
Yet I contain no vacuum –
and am slowly torn apart.
This snippet of a poem, written when I was seventeen, expresses the conflict I felt between my passion for the arts and for the sciences, specifically between poetry and applied mathematics. To my teenage self, the two seemed inherently incompatible. Mathematics, as I understood it at the time, was logical and disciplined, whereas poetry required what Keats described as ‘Negative Capability, that is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason’ (Keats, 1817).Continue reading
Was it like that for you as well, when you were at school? Words lived. They had histories, back-trails to ancient Greek rhetoric or Roman sensibility, to mediaeval French farms, soggy lowland water-meadows, absurd colonial rituals. They sang, they danced, with their own characteristic rhythm and energy. You could play with words, write stories, compose poems, tell jokes, formulate riddles, act them out, set them to music. And you could read them, voraciously.Continue reading