Tag Archives: Swedish bread twists

Simple and Elegant Do Not Mean Easy

Gone are the two theories, gone their troubles and delicious reflections in one another, their furtive caresses, their inexplicable quarrels; alas, we have but one theory, whose majestic beauty can no longer excite us. Nothing is more fertile than these illicit liaisons…
André Weil quoted in Edward Frenkel’s Love and Math (103)

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Simple and elegant Swedish bread twists with almonds and cardamom: an essential component of higher math comprehension

Math is passion. And like passion, it has its dark side. I have written before about the identity crisis that maths seem to provoke ( here and  here), I admit I may have some slight obsession with the subject. In my own life I have, like others, found deep peace and contentment in the objective exactitude of math, but, also like others, when math seems to veer off the course of what we have understood as the applied rules, it is deeply unsettling.

In math, the problem is always well defined, and there is no ambiguity about what solving it means, you either solve it or you don’t (56).

After reading Edward Frenkel’s very fine book Love and Math, I feel I may have come to glimpse the nature of my fascination with math theory. I don’t believe it is our fault that our world-views are thrown by concepts such as imaginary numbers. The trick is, I think,  one must push through the black hole of comprehension that engulfs us, otherwise it is very easy to lose our psychological footing. I believe it all comes down to subjective versus objective truths.

Mathematics is separate from both the physical world and the mental world (234)

Let me first say that I do not in any way want to present myself as somebody who read Love and Math with anything close to full comprehension of the complex and creative math that Frenkel heroically tried to bring within my intellectual reach. But that is not the point. It’s not why I seemed unable to put the book down, nor is it, I think, why he wrote it.

Indeed, the square of any real number must be positive or 0, so it cannot be equal to -1. So unlike √2 and -√2, the numbers √-1 and -√-1 are not real numbers. But so what? (101).

BUT SO WHAT????!!! SO WHAT!? That is the very heart and soul of the identity crisis of myself and many others!? Not so what!? Math is objective. What is the meaning of truth? Where are we then? Who am I? What is real? Why do I matter, oh god, what is the meaning of life? But wait….hang on…a light, a sliver of understanding…while Frankel described how it was in fact true that 2+2=1, I had a Eureka! moment. Yes. I see it! It is true 2+2 does equal 1. The truth is not altered. The truth is objective, it is only the means by which I got there, the translation I used, that altered. The solution is “created” but that creation has nothing to do with the solution other than its ability to allow us to perceive what is already there: the truth. That’s objectivity on an entirely different order. Wow. What a moment. It’s true, it’s like falling in love.

The deeper I delved into math, the more my fascination grew, the more I wanted to know. This is what happens when you fall in love (28).

I believe that our subjectivity is absolute. Inescapable. The only measure by which to ground ourselves in our subjectivity, however, is the purely objective language of math. It’s pure objectivity profoundly orients us. It is the discrete objectivity of math that connects. What a marvelous completeness the totality of subjective and objective truths gives us.

In truth, the process of creating new mathematics is a passionate pursuit, a deeply personal experience, just like creating art and music. It requires love and dedication, a struggle with the unknown and with oneself, which elicits strong emotions (233).

Frenkel’s book is wonderful on multiple fronts, his personal history growing up towards the end of Communist Russia, describing his struggles to overcome the systemic anti-semitism that pervaded the culture, is riveting. His charming delight connecting math to all aspects of life culminating in his 2010 film, Rites of Love and Math, is inspiring and beautiful. He draws on every aspect of life to help bring understanding to the complex math he is explaining, for example he refers to his mother’s borscht recipe to explain particle content of quantum field theory. This , however, brings me to a very serious breakdown in my comprehension, to which I must bring Frenkel to task:

For example, let’s look at this recipe of the Russian soup borscht, a perennial favorite in my home country. My mom makes the best one (of course!). […] Obviously, I have to keep my mom’s recipe secret. But here’s a recipe I found online (196).

My dear Mr. Frenkel, I am afraid that that is not at all “obvious” to me. Please explain, or send recipe.

*title from pg 201

 

 

What To Do With The Ends

No, I am not at all cynical, I have merely got experience, which, however, is very much the same thing.
– Oscar Wilde, Complete Shorter Fiction, Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime (24)

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Swedish Cardamon Bun Twists

With a change of season/change of life momentum I made a Herculean effort to finish all of the books that are lingering on various tables, in my bag, or car. Things were a little out of control and all the loose ends were begging me, please, to come together in a completed knot before I move on.  I had amassed a haphazard mix of material: perhaps it was end of term overload, indecision or stress of the unknown future but I suddenly felt I was reading too many books. The one quality they had in common was put-down-ability. By which I mean, a book of essays or short stories which make a fine and proper reprieve from it all. It. The It of it all-  an overwhelming mountain if its crushing the soul beneath- quick, where’s my book? True, in some cases, the put-down-ability derives from lack of a compelling reason to pick-up-again-ability, if you will. I had Oscar Wilde, Vincent Scully, biographies of Jane Austen, Lawrence Durrell and his first wife Nancy, all on rotation. Books are a little like buns- some never proof, but others bake up beautifully.

In this materialistic and half brutalized age, it is still the faith of great architects that noble men can be formed and made by noble buildings.
– Vincent Scully, Modern Architecture and other Essays (63)

Scully is a wonderful writer with such an open love for his subject; the way in which I look at architecture has been so enriched by his perspective and insight, it’s truly invigorating. For him, architecture is art, philosophy and psychology. Every building he discusses has a narrative and meaning, an essential, and through his eyes, beautiful place on the path of progress. Maybe it is because everything is swarming with a verdant freshness. Maybe it is because I am simply, finally, looking up again, but a book that places you in the world is surely superior to one that offers mere temporary escape from it. It seems to me there is always an element of hope in any work of art- hope as a reason to look up and forward.

I made Swedish Buns the other day. I was meant to tie them into some sort of an effortless twisted knot. With every bun I would manage the first end with beautiful clarity and then something would go awry with the final twist. I kept finding myself in an awkward moment of holding a fast drooping twisted end without the slightest idea what to do with it. At a certain point my hand would just take over- roll, tuck, spin, hide, hope, whatever. Once I had achieved some semblance of a sphere I would put it down, having no idea how I had formed it.

Life, my outlook on life,  is a twisted knot of cynicism and, yes, I will admit-  hope.  I try not to, I really should, but sometimes a plateful of sweets presents, and a cynic can never swallow joy.

A dear man sent me this wonderful poem. “What blame to us if the heart live on.” The heart is the mother of all yeasts.

Chaplinesque

We will make our meek adjustments,
Contented with such random consolations
As the wind deposits
In slithered and too ample pockets.

For we can still love the world, who find
A famished kitten on the step, and know
Recesses for it from the fury of the street,
Or warm torn elbow coverts.

We will sidestep, and to the final smirk
Dally the doom of that inevitable thumb
That slowly chafes its puckered index toward us,
Facing the dull squint with what innocence
And what surprise!

And yet these fine collapses are not lies
More than the pirouettes of any pliant cane;
Our obsequies are, in a way, no enterprise.
We can evade you, and all else but the heart:
What blame to us if the heart live on.

The game enforces smirks; but we have seen
The moon in lonely alleys make
A grail of laughter of an empty ash can,
And through all sound of gaiety and quest
Have heard a kitten in the wilderness.

Harold Hart Crane