Sunday, December 03, 2006

So Much For Everything, then!

by Ed Rehmus

Leonhard Euler, a Swiss mathematician of the 18th Century who was clever enough to point out that the fundamental logarithmic number e multiplied by itself the square root of minus one time(s), and that then multiplied by itself 3.14159265... times cannot be saved from non-existence by the addition of one, but at least is nothing less than zero. This is clever because the formula successfully contains all five fundamental numbers (0, 1, π, e and i).

Leonhard Euler image
Leonhard Euler

Even less relevant, however, was his announce-ment to the atheist Denis Diderot, "Sir, (a+b)n/ n = x, hence God exists!" Since Diderot was not a mathe-matician he was totally bumfuzzled by that. But since Euler went on to challenge the atheist, "what do you say to that?" Leonhard obviously must have had more to say than that the sum of any two known rational numbers to some power (presumably not zero) and then divided by that power will equal some unknown number. Unfortunately, since Diderot fled the scene red-faced and bladder-emptied by this puffball, the ultimate proof of God's existence remains untransmitted to us.

Although mathematics is probably the most thorough-going of all man's anthropomorphic pursuits, it still cannot break free of anthropomorphism itself. It uses a symbolically human abstraction of human logic to prove purely human questions and to set the parameters of purely human quests. Since we cannot understand any intelligence higher than our own we can never properly evaluate the limits of our confinement nor its priority in the cosmic ladder.

There are yet a few wisemen of the tribe, mirabile dictu, who insist that things are just as wonderful as they have always been. Isn't motherhood still the purpose of existence? Dubya may have his faults, but he is still our president, isn't he? Global warming will help us cut down on our fuel bills, won't it? Why do I need Medicare if I never get sick? Amidst such incontrovertible axioms, Euler's incandescent formula sends rays of glaring irrelevance over the whole meaningless night of Panglossian optimism.

But now into this darkness comes a devastating, heart-stabbing news flash from current astronomy that the universe is about to become even darker. For the universe is not merely expanding in every direction, but said expansion is growing faster and faster by the nanosecond. Within a relatively short time we shall have blown far outside the range of all the stars to find ourselves spinning alone and silent in empty space. Solipsism seems not only the province of anthropism but is apparently the irrational, if not downright nonsensical, predilection of astrophysics as well.

You might well ask, what virus it is that causes a cell to explode. Then maybe some 21st Century Euler could measure the velocity thereof, provided of course he was able to decide whether to use a microcosmic, macrocosmic or anthropocosmic hourglass.

No comments: