Saturday, 26 October 2013


Finn and Jake from Adventure Time say, "Algebraic", when they're impressed with someone or something - sort of like "cool" only mathematical (ie, righteously-so).

I think Inuit (or an uncanny number of us) are algebraic in our thinking processes. Much of the Inuit inventions have an undeniable geometric quality about them but the quality is informed (intuited) by the physical laws that our ancestors have had to contend with and/or exploit in order to survive. The harpoon head, the igloo, the qajaq, etc. in their basic forms are difficult to improve upon. Algebraic.

In his book, The Music of the Primes, Marcus du Sautoy (2003) describes "Gauss's austere personality in his later years" (p.75) that resonates to some degree with older Inuit I knew in my youth. But this "austere personality" has nothing to do with being "severe" nor anything negative and rather more to do with venerable-old-monk quality...I don't know quite how to describe it; it just is. People who've lived lives as a calling, I think, tend to attain old-age like this.

There is something that Lao Tsu said, "To attain knowledge, add things everyday. To attain wisdom, remove things every day” that I think applies to what Inuit of old tried to attain in old age that gives this "austere" quality that Finn and Jake would call "Algebraic": Gathering knowledge is youth (adding things) while contemplating meaning (and ridding oneself of superfluous things) is old age (ie, cultivating maturity).

Going by my experience, I'd say that maturity is not something that comes on its own as one ages. Becoming algebraic - in the deeper sense, removing the unnecessary things - is a deliberate choice that one fails in time and again but do not give up trying. When we catch glimpses of it, it is truly "algebraic".


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