Monday, January 24, 2011

An Exponential Pain in the Brain

In High School, I took “Finite Math” because the “Basic Probability Theory” is applicable in everyday real-life settings…like trying to win the lottery and break Vegas.

Recently, after making known my disdain for any math with no practical purpose (like multiplication and fractions), a young mathematician named Roy offered to share with me the relative merits of the Sierpinski Triangle.

When I responded with, “The what?” Roy looked horrified and proclaimed, “Only the most famous triangle in the world!” Please. Even the Obtuse Triangle would rank higher.

Over the next 30 minutes, I listened intently as Roy declared the amazing mathematical wizardry behind the Triangle of the Gods. His monologue was akin to a defense lawyer making a closing argument. I had never seen someone so passionately discuss a shape. Well, at least not since Cookie Monster drooled over a circle because it looked like…a cookie.

I was following along well until the word “fractal” caused my mind to briefly wander. I have such fond memories of my sister and I watching “Fractal Rock”. Good ol’ Gobo, Wembley and those cute little green Doozers. Oooh, I just want to squish their pudgy cheeks.

My mental drifting didn’t last long. Roy, noticing my blank stare, began drawing a diagram to refocus me. He drew at such a frenetic pace you would have thought he was drawing a map to the lost city of Atlantis.

I watched closely as his pencil feverishly drew line after line…after line. Eventually, with lines darting every which way, my eyes concluded it was probably best to split up and follow different areas of the page.

At one point, the pattern got so crazy my left eyeball flat out gave up, dislocated itself and, for the duration of the lesson, floated around randomly…which made me even more distracted and others slightly queasy.

All of a sudden, as quickly as it had begun, the pencil stopped moving. My first thought was sheer terror. “Oh crap, my brain froze!”

You can imagine my relief when I saw the floor…then the wall…then the ceiling. This proved it was indeed the pencil which had stopped, and not my brain. Clearly my left eye was still recording information during it’s now steady rotation.

With the initial panic subdued, my right eye glanced up at Roy, who was wearing a smile fit for the Cheshire Cat, and waited for my left eye to come full circle. For a moment, albeit brief, I locked both eyes onto his. He was so enthralled with his perfectly demonstrated point he didn’t even wince when my right eye darted off again.

Not ready to confess my total lapse of interest, I slowly glanced back down at the diagram hoping to see the beautiful interlocking of art and math that Roy saw. But all I saw…was the final daily tally left by a lifer on their prison cell wall.

“So…how does this apply to life?”

Roy said, “You know the Hydra…from Greek Mythology?”

Thank goodness dinner was ready...

Have a good one,


  1. Oooooh boy. Clueless in Grand Rapids.

  2. Timmy, Timmy, Timmy,
    We use Sierpinski Triangle everyday here on the farm. You know - how many acres of hay per field, pounds of milk produced, how many flies pooped on the head of the nail in the barn gate, what tractor ran over the cat and did the duck really fall into the water trough or did someone help him. You need to come visit us to put the Sierpinski Triangle into practice.


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