Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dr. E wrote...

"Thank you, Ms. B-R.  This is by far the most interesting email I've received in many weeks."

Amongst the students, the course for which I had Dr. E this past semester had two married couples (L and me included).  One day, as Dr. E passed back homework, he made a remark about how similar the solutions of husband and wife were.

I said, "Well, we're married.  It would be silly of us to not confer, but I think you'll find my homework is generally better written than his." 

Dr. E looked from L back to me and said, "Yes, your other half seems to have something of a grudge against the English language."

L, looking indignant, "Hey, if there's a symbol for it why bother writing it all out?"

"You'll want to reconsider that question when you start writing your dissertation, yes?  You're supposed to be practicing," Dr. E reminded us.

After a round of chuckles, Dr. E devoted about ten minutes to an aside about mathematical families and how confusing it could be to determine if the credit for a theorem belonged to the mother, father, son, daughter, cousin, etc., when they all have the same last name and sometimes first name.  Eventually, it led to a discussion of transcendental numbers.  These are numbers which are not the roots of a polynomial with rational coefficients In other words, it's not a solution to something like   

The most common examples, which are proven to be transcendental, are π and e.  Dr. E couldn't remember any other proven examples, so I sent him a link to the Wikipedia page for transcendental numbers. 

When he replied, thanking me and providing me with the quote at the beginning of this post, he fretted over having forgotten another set of famous mathematicians that also included an author in the mix. He felt it must be intimidating to be born into such a family, and how we could be thankful that we didn't have these legacies to uphold.  I responded that it was probably a lot like being the child of a celebrity - you either make a name for yourself, and still constantly have to prove to the world that you made it based on your own talent and not because of who your mommy/daddy is, or you end up on Celebrity Fit Club/ Re-hab whining about how no one loves you and you can never live up to your parents expectations.  He emailed me back to tell me that he appreciated my sense of humor and that he had a friend in grad school who wrote mathematical limericks, one of which he still remembered.  

"We all need an outlet," he wrote. 

I wondered if he was subtly hinting that he knows that I write.  It's something my PhD advisor, Dr. C, might have told him.  The only reason Dr. C knows is that L told him.  I'm not ashamed of my writing, but it is very personal and often very dark.  Anyway, Dr. E never brought it up, but I still wondered.             


  1. I often feel so stupid reading you. Maths has never been a language I found easy to learn, let alone converse in.

  2. Oh, please don't. I'm a specialist. When I read your posts about your work, I often find myself googling the jargon.