Friday, August 15, 2008

3.14159265 (god is a number part 3)

12:45. Restate my assumptions.
1. Mathematics is the language of nature.
2. Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers.
3. If you graph the numbers of any system, patterns emerge; therefore, there are patterns everywhere in nature.

-Max Cohen, in a clip from the film Pi.
Maximillian Cohen is a mathematical genius in Pi, an intense psychological thriller directed by Darren Aronofsky in 1998. Max is a number theorist and human calculator who is searching for patterns in the stock market because it presents the greatest intellectual challenge.
"Millions of human hands at work, billions of minds...a vast network, screaming with life: an organism. A natural organism."
He suffers from debilitating migraine headaches and more than a little paranoia. Money is irrelevant to Max, but not to the aggressive and menacing agents from a Wall Street firm who insist upon hiring him. He is also followed around by a Hassidic Jew who adheres to the mystical beliefs of Kabbalah and especially Gammantria (or Gematria), a form of numerology that uses mathematics to unlock the secrets of the Torah.1 It's the belief that god really is a number.

In the movie, god is a 216 digit number that can also predict the stock market.

Max's mentor came across the number during his early research on π, but abandoned the effort after it resulted in a stroke. He tries to discourage Max from pursuing this work, but his advice is ignored, with disastrous effects. Max's health (and seemingly, his grip on sanity) declines to the point where he tries to rid his mind (and brain) of the migraines and the haunting numbers.

This artsy black and white film, shot on a very low budget ($60,000), employs an anxiogenic soundtrack to heighten the pain and disorientation of Max's migraines. The credit sequence alone is worth watching, and you can view it here. The image below is taken from one of the early PET papers by Petersen, Fox, Posner, Mintun, and Raichle (1988).

View the trailer.


1 For a credulous and sympathetic presentation of these views - and of a surprising debate in referred statistical journals - read Divine Authorship? Computer reveals startling word patterns.

In 1988 an obscure paper was published–in a prominent, rigorous, indeed premier, scientific journal–with results that may demolish the claims of the "higher" critics, and support, rather, the Orthodox Jewish contention as to the nature of the Torah. The paper, by Doron Witztum, Eiyahu Rips and Yoav Rosenberg of the Jerusalem College of Technology and the Hebrew University, is innocuously entitled "Equidistant Letter Sequences of the Book of Genesis" and was published in the eminent Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. It generated a brief flurry of public attention (and a wave of activity within Orthodox Jewish circles) but was ultimately lost from general view both because of its rather technical nature and because of the sheer outrageousness of its findings, which remain, however, unrefuted as far as I know.

The authors, mathematical statisticians, discovered words encoded into the Hebrew text that could not have been accidental–nor placed there by human hand.

After publication, the authors continued their work and found that some pairs of words were predictive–that is, they could not have been known to the supposedly human authors of the Hebrew text because they occurred long after the Bible was composed.

A proper rebuttal (written by John A. Tvedtnes, a Mormon) is available at Review of Michael Drosnin. The Bible Code.
The truth is, however, that with enough permutations, one can find such "prophetic" messages in any lengthy text... [including Moby Dick, which predicted the death of Princess Diana and the assassinations of many public figures].

. . .

Meanwhile, the May 1999 issue of Statistical Science ... included a refutation by four statisticians, who wrote that "despite a considerable amount of effort, we have been unable to detect the codes."

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