November 8, 2008

Varieties of Mathematical Experience

Filed under: Uncategorized — hipbone @ 8:47 am


Namagiri is, as far as I know, the consort of Narasimha or Narsingh, the man-lion avatar of Vishnu, misspelled as Narahimsa in the Kellys’ book.

It is a pity that those who are interested in Ramanujan have not expended as much thought on his mathematical mental process — which he attributes as we see above to Namagiri — as they have to his mathematical results. As consort of Narasimha, Namagiri would be a goddess of the liminal spaces, the interstices — for Narasimha himself is a liminal figure many times over. His story goes like this:

A tyrannous and oppressive king obtained a boon that he should die “neither by day nor night, neither within the palace nor outside it, neither at the hand of man nor beast” – and thought his boon conveyed immortality. His hubristic attempt to make himself equal to God was only ended when the avatar Narasimha, a half-man half-lion figure, met him on his own doorstep at dusk and slew him — so that he died neither by day nor by night, neither within the palace nor outside it, and neither at the hand of beast nor of man.

It is instructive, in the context of Ramanujan, that an Indian writer on Narasimha explicitly discusses liminality in terms of inspiration and the transcendence of ordinary logic:

It is at the cusp, in the moment of liminality, in the state of in-betweenness, that ignorance is defeated and knowledge is acquired. This in-betweeneness also compels us to recognize that we are not always bound by either “a” or “b”, not even by “not a” nor “not b”. If we go only so far as common-sense logic appears to take us, we might not travel very far at all.

Vinay Lal, Associate Professor of History, UCLA

In that “in-betweenness” neither Namagiri nor the UFOs of John Nash are to be taken literally — reified — nor dismissed out of hand — but seen instead as archetypal realities, imaginal entities, platonic ideas: deep workings of deep mind.)


1 Comment »

  1. Did I ever tell you, Charles, how all my best ideas were texted to my cell phone by the bloody shade of Macduff?

    Comment by Marshall Massey — November 8, 2008 @ 9:47 am

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