News for number lovers

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.

3 Responses to News for number lovers

  1. Margaret says:

    I got a score of 39 “Autism likely.” (My son has Asperger’s syndrome.) I notice things like patterns a lot too. I think numbers themselves are awfully boring, but properties of numbers (such as the Fibonacci sequence and how it corresponds to growth in nature) do fascinate me. I don’t have time to read about partition numbers right now (never heard of them) but I will have to read the article.

  2. mommy says:

    Nice article, Pauline. I DO love numbers, patterns, and sequences. I guess that’s why you keep beating me in Scrabble. I used to have a variation of Scrabble called “Numble” that was based on numbers. I guess there just wasn’t a marked for it, but if there was an online version, maybe I could beat you?

    • Pauline says:

      Numble sounds familiar, but I don’t know if I ever played it. It certainly didn’t have the same appeal for me that Scrabble did – and does.

      I used to get puzzle books that had a variety of puzzles instead of just crosswords. I especially liked doing acrostics and logic puzzles. I didn’t care for the cross-sums puzzles, where you had to fill in the right numbers to add up to the sums in the black spaces of the puzzle. (As with word fill-ins, you’d figure out what went where by process of elimination, but if you missed one possibility and filled in the wrong number, it would work for a while and then you’d be stuck and you had no idea where you went wrong to go back and redo less than the whole puzzle.)

      But if you find an online version of Numble, I’ll be happy to give it a try.

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