Saturday, August 14, 2004


King of great numbers
Aditya Rishi

You have hardly acknowledged his presence. "Whose presence?" His. I refer to that man with long hair and white beard, sitting over there on the beach. "Is he someone important? He seems rather ordinary to me."

You walk away from there, as Archimedes counts the grains of sand in the universe to convince his patron, King Gelon of Syracuse, that numbers can be devised adequate to the task.

"No one can count the grains of sand in the universe, these are infinite." Nothing can be more inaccurate than what you are saying. The grains of sand in the universe are finite and you can indeed count these; the only thing that is infinite is mathematics.

Have you ever tried counting the stars? "Yes, but I always give up after 100. You canít be counting the stars forever, thereís no end to it." Not only are the stars finite, but also these can be counted in a tiny corner of a simple notebook. Archimedes wrote the formula in sand, itís still buried there. Maybe, some day somebody can find it again.

"You are most irrational." No, g = (sqrt5 + 1)/2 = 1.618033... is the most irrational. Itís the most irrational number. Itís also called the Golden Mean.

Whatís the greatest picture you ever saw? You havenít seen anything yet if you havenít read the magic in fractals. The worldís most astonishing paintings would seem amateur drawings when compared with the symmetrical beauty of fractals. Whoís the greatest painter you ever met? I know a painter who can beat him: God, and He works with a brush called vectals, which makes trees grow and flowers blush. Itís all in the seed, how it is viewed and in which direction it is allowed to grow.

"The king of great numbers, thatís what you think you are, isnít it?" No, no. I can barely count up to 10. However, there is indeed one king of great numbers. His name is Srinivasa Ramanujan. "Where does he live?" He lives among the stars now. Srinivasa Ramanujan once gave the formula for computing a billion digits of pi. It was later discovered that this could be extended to compute pi up to even the 100th billion digit.

They say that only God and Ramanujan know what lies between zero and infinity.

Is there a Ramanujan in you? Thereís a Ramanujan in each one of us, just like thereís God in everyone, but without a challenge, this Ramanujan will die unsung again. We need, therefore, to look for challenges, especially the ones that look daunting.

Tonight before you sleep, count all the stars in the sky, compute the billionth digit of pi, find the different ways in which you can test whether a number is prime or not and discover new fundamental constants, because when you wake up tomorrow, you have to count the grains of sand in the universe. 

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