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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Numerical Dreaming

Ptak writes:

Thinking big thoughts in dreams is generally not a common thing, as anyone who has read their own semi-conscious half-awake memory notes of a dream-based inspiration could attest. But it does happen: Paul McCartney1 dreamed the song Yesterday, Gandhi dreamed the source of non-violent resistance, Elias Howe dreamed of the construction of the first sewing machine, and Mary Shelley the creation of her novel Frankenstein... For good or for ill, William Blake was evidently deeply influenced by his own dreams; on the other hand, Rene Magritte was deeply influenced by dreams but didn’t use any of his own for his paintings. Otto Loewi turned an old problem into not one in a dream, finding a solution to the prickish problem of whether nerve impulses were chemical or electrical (and resulting in the Nobel for medicine in 1935); the fabulous discovery of the benzene ring came to August Kekule in a dream as well.

Artists have been representing people in dreams and dreamscapes for many centuries: Durer depicted a dream in a 1525 watercolor, for example, and thousands of artists have depicted famous biblical dreams (Joseph of Pharo) for long expanses of time.

What struck me, though, in this illustration found on the other side of the page of the Illustrirte Zeitung2 (for August 1932) that I used for yesterday’s post about damming Gibraltar and Shakespeare’s memories, was the depiction of someone dreaming mathematical thoughts…or at the very least, dreaming numbers. People have undoubtedly dreamed much in mathematics, but I can not recall seeing illustrations of these dreams.

link: Ptak Science Books: Dreams of Mathematics


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