Music of the Spheres

Reading a fascinating article in the current Wired (not online) about autistic savants and similar. The article quotes a section from Oliver Sacks’ “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” about a pair of twin boys who could not multiply or divide, and had great difficulty with addition and subtraction, but who nevertheless entertained one another for hours by reciting prime numbers up to 20 digits long to one another. They did not know how they knew the primes — they “just saw them.”

The article also refers to the young Andre’-Marie Ampere, who as a toddler could lay out complex arithmetic equations in stones and cookie crumbs, even though he could not yet read numbers.

To me, these are such amazing illustrations of the innateness, the universality of math. It’s not just a human construct. It’s out there, it’s real, it can be “tapped into” without any knowledge or advanced understanding of “how math works.”

Other prodigies tap into music in much the same way, like little Mo Kin the 3-yr-old xylophone prodigy. “Music is my favorite way of thinking,” says one child. The music of the spheres. Music, math, inspiration, we’re just floating in the plasma of them, grasping tendrils as they go by.

6 Replies to “Music of the Spheres”

  1. Oh this was fasinating. I love this kind of stuff. I am the new grandmother to a 6 month old and have baby sat her since she was 3 months. Its amazing to me how their minds grow. Everyday she seems to learn more and more. I of course think she is brilliant. But these children in the article… how scary is that? Not scary in a bad way but scary in that it only proves, to me at least, just how little we actually know of the world and universe and how it works even if we arent aware of it. How really insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things. The grand scheme is more than we could probably ever comprehend.

  2. my brain sucks, i have never “seen” math.

    I do find it fascinating that we all assume to percieve things that same. The most simple example being color. We all call the reflection of select light waves the color blue. So we all assume we all see the same thing, when actually our brains may be processing the information very differently. Extrapolating to other senses, every one is most likely experiencing something very unique, but will describe it in a very similar way.

    What if, for some reason you never picked up on the commonly practiced ways to describe something, how would you describe it? For example, if I did not know descriptive terms for music (tempo, tone, beat, etc.) I (a visual person) would describe music as I “see” it with visual terms. My description would be more accurate to my perception, becuase I would not have to translate it to the confines of music terms. Yet, those “confining” terms are absolutely necessary to communicate and share thoughts and ideas with others.

    Whew, you got me started on a subject I am fascinated with. I am really not this boring in person.

  3. Griff, you’re right on. You and I both have green web sites but what you and I experience as the color green may have nothing in common beyond the public token – the word “green.” Wittgenstein was actually quite consumed with this problem – he called it the “beatle in the box” – using an example of a box that no one else could look into and each of us describing our own beatle.

    It’s a viewpoint that ultimately leads to solipsism, but Wittgenstein mitigated that, saying that the public tokens we exchange *are* our public and shared consciousness.

    We’re not alone after all. I think.

  4. Heavy blog, JohnB.

    Wavelengths yes, but the problem of seeing colors differently is one of verification, yes? How can we ever verify that you see green like I do? Apply to all sense-based knowledge.

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