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jueves, enero 25, 2007

Prime Time

Yesterday I returned from two weeks in Paradise. Paradise is always 84 degrees F; here it will be -10 F tomorrow. In Paradise I can sleep with all the windows open and the fan on, and still hear the waves and wind on the reef; here I wonder whether there is such a thing as too many blankets. These are contrasts that distort my perceptions and make me feel as if I've been awake for 3 days. I half expect inanimate objects to have neon green auras.

In the middle of the night here, I see a large, digital alarm clock. I look at it and see what 3-digit number, between 100 and 600, might be on the screen. Then I wonder about the number. No, not just it's augury or numerological significances. Not whether I should play it in Lotto. No, something more likely to stir avalanches of calculations. I wonder, is it prime? If it isn't, what are its factors. If it has factors, are they in some way unusual? Figuring out all of this while squinting at the clock and wandering across a frozen floor half asleep is a challenge.

There are some numbers like 323 that look prime but aren't (17 x 19). There are numbers like 349 that look like they aren't prime but are. There are strange even numbers like 120, which is 2 x 3 x 4 x 5, and 256, which is 2 to the 8th power. The list of oddities and coincidences is enormous.

This has led to a chart of the prime wee hours
101 103 107 109 113 127 131 137 139 149 151 157
211 223 227 229 233 239 241 251 257
307 311 313 317 331 337 347 349 353 359
401 409 419 421 431 433 439 443 449 457
503 509 521 523 541 547 557

I haven't memorized this chart. And I haven't made copies of it. I'm aware that the numbers I encounter most often are between 307 and 443. In this realm of the dark, cold night, prime numbers are more than 37% of the odd numbers, and recognizing them in the dark, like evanescent shooting stars, requires a mental agility I just don't have. Things like knowing the 17 or 19 times tables would be of help in this, but probably in nothing else I can imagine.

I stand surrounded by these numbers and these thoughts. I recall reading recently that a man begins to age at the death of his mother. My mother was a math teacher. She passed away 2 and a half years ago. As I feel the cold floor on my feet, I wonder how my nightly search for these primes might be a way of honoring her. And I wonder at the strange cerebral pleasure I find in trying to complete these mental calculations while the persistent veil of sleep tries to shroud me in fog and pull me into forgetting. And I wonder whether waking and calculating is a badge of aging.


Blogger ClaudiaR said...

I have a confession: when I read about Paradise I am...totally jealous :) The sea wind coming through an open window? My God. I can hardly see through this frozen glass. As soon as it turns January, I want to move to San Diego, or Miami, or better yet, an island in the Caribbean.

6:35 a.m.  

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