When I read Norman Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, I always find myself curiously annoyed that the princesses Rhyme and Reason (who need to be rescued from the Castle in the Air to bring sanity back to a land in chaos) determine that words and numbers are equally important. (I am relieved to learn from an interview with Juster about his famous book that he wasn’t trying to make any grand point regarding that conflict – like most of the book, it was just about having fun with language and ideas.)
I’ve always loved words (and obviously Juster has also). Numbers can occasionally be interesting, but mostly they’re just useful tools. Without numbers, I couldn’t be writing this blog post because there wouldn’t be any computers. Without the technology that numbers enable, we’d probably all be cave dwellers. But I could at least share stories around the fire. Without words, there would be no human society (at least not as I think of society), and no use for technology even if it existed.
Recently I took a quiz that is supposed to be able to give some indication whether a person has an autism spectrum disorder. While I don’t have autism, my score is closer to that of many autistic people than to the average non-autistic person. I’m not good at chitchat or social situations in general, I prefer a library to a party, and I notice patterns in things a lot (I’m not sure if I can quite say “all the time” but it seemed close enough).
But I cannot say I am exactly fascinated by numbers, as people with autism spectrum disorders often are. (My younger son, who is considered autistic, isn’t much of a numbers person either. I help him almost every week with his homework for his Extended Learning Program math class, and while the math is easy enough for me, I have trouble figuring out how to help him arrive at the answers himself.)
All that said, after reading an article about an important mathematical discovery, I decided I needed to post this if only because I figured it would interest my sister Margaret (in case she hasn’t already read this). For myself, I find myself reacting about as I would to the discovery of some new species of beetle – well, that’s nice, and I’m sure it’s important to some people, but I just can’t get too excited about it.
Frankly, I’d never even heard the term “partition numbers” before – or if I had, it had completely escaped my notice. Even after reading the article, I am uncertain what makes them so important. And I can’t muster the interest to figure out for myself why they are, though I’m more than willing to believe that this discovery about them is as breathtaking as the article says it is.
I did enjoy the article though – after all, it’s full of words.