Monday, October 18, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Indiviso

She showed me a room that looked more like a casino than a math lab. Hundreds of men and women in various conditions of dress, from underwear to lab coats to three-piece suits, worked busily on hulking laptops equipped with levers and jacked into four additional screens. Every so often somebody’s quad of screens would flash. They’d smile, then sink back into work like a gambler feeding quarters into the slots.

I asked, “What are they doing?”

Pi beamed at her flock of mathematicians. “We’re working on the answer.”

“The answer to what?”

“You know,” she said, waving her middle and index fingers in what most people would consider the sign of the cross, though using the two fingers to her meant the pound sign. “ Life. The universe. Everything.”

Being someone who reads Douglas Adams and thinks himself too clever, I asked, “Have you tried forty-two?”

“Forty-two?” Her face wrinkled at me. “That’s divisible by at least four numbers. There’s no way that’s the answer.”

“The answer can’t be divisible by four numbers?”

“Realistically, it can’t be divided by any numbers. Not even itself. Otherwise we’d have calculated it by now.”

I knew enough math to disagree. “It’s not a number if it can’t be divided by itself.”

“It can be the unique number. The original number.” She made her pound sign again.
“We call it ‘Indiviso.’”

“So you figured it out?”

“No, just got the name ready for it. Naming stuff is way easier than getting to it. It’s probably not supposed to be conceivable.” She folded her arms and regarded the rows of mathematicians. Somebody's screen flashed gold, then went back to streams of binary. “But if it is, math is doing its half of the work.”


  1. To infinity and beyond! I did a high level of maths in high school and enjoyed it, but it has been dumped from the memory banks.
    This was cool.
    Adam B @revhappiness

  2. Very cool. I am an idiot in math. This was clever.

  3. As both a math dunce and Adams fan I truly loved this.

  4. Math & I don't get along very well (not sure how I ended up working in a bank for 7 years) but this was a great piece of flash. Reminded me of someone in my high school class who swore there was an invisible number between 5 and 6 (of course this same guy called me "turnip" because I had purple hair at the time). LOL!

    One note: Did Pi change genders in the middle of the story or was I misreading it?

  5. There are lots of numbers between 5 and 6, just not whole numbers. 5.1, 5.11, 5.111, 5.2, 5.555555555555...

    This does actual mathematics, especially theoretical mathematics, a serious disservice. But I'm just being silly and hope math lovers can get a kick out of it. Thanks for catching my gender typo (gender-o?), Vandamir!


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