I am so embarrassed. I want to do math.
March 8, 2014
My daughter’s math class is working on logarithms. I have a special enthusiasm for logarithms. Every single thing about them appears to be overwhelmingly opaque and indecipherable. Everything. And the most awesome thing about them being so completely crushingly incomprehensible is that Mr. John Napier (1550 – 1617) invented this system was to make life exponentially easier for us. And he succeeded.
Now here’s another cool thing about logarithms. The spelling. No one confidently remembers how to spell this word. But there’s a trick to remembering.
The trick is to spelling logarithm is to notice that it starts with L O G (that’s the easy part) and ends with the most of arithmetic. No pun intended.
I’ve been experiencing something that I mistook for an internal tug-of-war: I like blogging about book arts, but my mind of late has been drawn to playing with ideas that seem to have more to do with math than with books. It’s been a dilemma, how to keep writing about book arts when my mind is elsewhere. Finally I’ve had an ah-ha moment: I had forgotten that what brought me to book arts in the first place was wanting to make visual sequences of images that were related to a simple equation.
The equation that drew me into making books is the one which starts with the number 2 and doubles, then doubles again, then doubles again and again. It takes eight pages of doubling to get from 2 to 256. I’m infatuated by the slow measured way the numbers increase until there’s this tipping point, when the quantities then erupt into unmanageable largeness. I had created maybe a dozen of these books, experimenting with using lines, circles, overlapping lines, droplets of paint ect. I bound these books in a most inefficient and cumbersome way. Eventually a friend pointed me in the direction of The Center for Book Arts in NYC and new part of my education began. I found the geometry of constructing books to be a satisfying, even sublime experience. And, since I didn’t really know any other intoxicating mathematical equations I just kept making books.
Now, many years later, my daughter is coming home with problems like the one pictured above. My son offered an insight on this kind of problem, one that I hadn’t thought of before. He said that the answer to this problem made no more sense to him that the problem itself. It’s tough to remember that these functions have a look to them, and that solving for x looks like something. A day or two after having this problem as part of a long, mind numbing homework assignment, my daughter came home and bemoaned that her teacher had just that day told them that the point of logarithms was to find exponents. She wanted to know why they weren’t told that in the first place, and what was the point of doing all those numerical gymnastics? We had quite the discussion about that. And it keeps me thinking about pictures.