PhilosophyPsychologyQuantum physics

Trees and numbers

I just watched the film Pi. It was my second attempt to watch it – the first time ironically gave me a migraine with the flashing lights. The reason I watched it is partly because someone on Facebook recommended it when I posted about patterns in nature and partly because I have been thinking very deeply about measurement.

I had a conversation with my brother about the question of decoherence in quantum physics and the observable and measurable in the world. I am also writing a paper about qualitative and quantitative methods and again querying why it has to be one or the other – why can’t critical theory be taken into account?

Pi is an interesting film that weighs the question of whether mathematical patterns are at the centre of nature, and religion, and if we can know about them. It also deals with obsession, health, spirituality and material greed. In many ways it reminded me of the 1996 film Phenomenon. Both the main characters had experienced visual phenomenon, both had apparent enhancement of cognitive factors. Both are chased by organisations who want to ‘use’ them. Both are proved fallible despite their genius through ill health. Both were marked out as different by others. And both are preoccupied by swaying trees.

This question of patterns in the fabric of existence is not new. The Fibonacci number sequence is a good example and circadian rhythms are happening all around us right now, outside our control. But can this provide a ‘meaning’ for life in essentialist terms? Or do these rhythms and numbers need to work together with other symbiotic aspects of the world? The swaying trees in both films represent the replication of nature and how everything is interconnected, in opposition to number sequences.

The use of numbers and letter is to make sense on the world and to communicate. However, this forms a very small part of communication, and symbolism such as body language and movement play a large part, as well as outward appearance. In the world in general, social constructions guide us from day to day in a sense making exercise to make order out of the chaos. Our lives are highly organised by various forms of communication, so why do we focus so much on numbers, and why, in film, are the ‘special people’ who can decipher the depths of life always maimed in some way? Is it because we always have to have a cause for the effect? Is it because there needs to be a reason for someone to act in this way? Clearly, in Pi and in Phenomenon it’s because it is a film and the characters are constructed in order to allow for a premise! After all, people who have a deep interest in numbers and meaning are often identified as geeks, and the glamour/drama of the film world would need a pretty good reason to geek up any movie!

The underlying message of both films was that even though numbers are entrancing and explanatory, they do not conquer the secrets of the universe (after all, no one had managed to mathematically conjure up the matter that makes up the bits between the particles we already know about)there is more to life, and that meaning lies in relationships and living in the world.

No one yet has learned how to count joy.

One thought on “Trees and numbers

  1. Wow – what a post – I even understood most of it! I’ve watched Phenomenon several times, and have always marvelled at people with Autism – the way they see things differently…handle everything so much more simplistically. Life shouldn’t have to be so complicated, surely – we make it too difficult to see the real stuff. don’t we? Would I, therefore enjoy Pi the film? And whenever I have a conversation with my brother it always ends up with the merits of Spandau Ballet over Level 42 and how crap our childhood was!

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