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The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan

Robert Kanigel · 3 HN comments
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Amazon Summary
NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE STARRING JEREMY IRONS AND DEV PATEL! A moving and enlightening look at the unbelievable true story of how gifted prodigy Ramanujan stunned the scholars of Cambridge University and revolutionized mathematics. In 1913, a young unschooled Indian clerk wrote a letter to G H Hardy, begging the preeminent English mathematician's opinion on several ideas he had about numbers. Realizing the letter was the work of a genius, Hardy arranged for Srinivasa Ramanujan to come to England. Thus began one of the most improbable and productive collaborations ever chronicled. With a passion for rich and evocative detail, Robert Kanigel takes us from the temples and slums of Madras to the courts and chapels of Cambridge University, where the devout Hindu Ramanujan, "the Prince of Intuition," tested his brilliant theories alongside the sophisticated and eccentric Hardy, "the Apostle of Proof." In time, Ramanujan's creative intensity took its toll: he died at the age of thirty-two, but left behind a magical and inspired legacy that is still being plumbed for its secrets today.
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Its great to see Ramunujan getting a fair bit of attention these days. His story is really fascinating. I can recommend:

This was also made into a movie a couple of months ago, I haven't seen the movie but it should be on netflix/itunes by now since I don't think it had a wide theatrical release.

Netflix currently says they're getting it in August 2016 (DVD; I don't know about streaming)
Bottom line: You're constructing and executing math and likely do not realize how much math you are constructing and executing on a daily basis. This includes formal and experimental advanced theoretical mathematics, probability, statistics and number theory in some cases. Some academics do not like to hear this, however, you deal(industry term) in functions, variables, minimums, maximums, rates of change, statistics, probability and overall, symbols. If you're duplicating the next facebook (as facebook did with myspace and myspace, friendster, etc etc), snapchat or yo app your likely not directly engaged in much math or innovation compared to inventing something on the algorithmic level like Google. If you are creating or inventing something new on the software engineering level including the algorithmic level, then you are certainly creating a lot of theoretical math and perhaps without even knowing it. This is key.

Here's a good book to understand how you've leap-frogged certain aspects of mathematics via true and real innovative Computer Science: (the Einstein of India. Every country and family has their very own Einstein, you might be one of them.)

The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan

I love articles like this. Ramanujan was a very interesting man and perhaps had some of the deepest mathematical insights of anyone who existed. People are still trying to figure out what the things he wrote down meant. If you want to know more about his life, there's a great book called "The Man who Knew Infinity" (
I find this very interesting since, while I am positive it has a mundane naturalistic explanation (like: the guy was really smart and had exceptional intuition), revealing the answers to questions that perhaps cannot yet even be formally asked is how I think I would go about proving that I was either from the future or another world.

Somehow get sent back in time a couple dozen thousand years? Carve a bunch of primes into the side of a cave somewhere, maybe throw in the Pythagorean theorem and a suspicious number of digits of Pi too. Messages that perhaps mean little to the contemporaries of the message.

Kind of fun to think about I think.

It gets even more interesting when you think about what 'intuition' really is, and what it means to 'know' something. Words, words m'lord.

If you're willing to leave the standpoint of a 'reality' which is based in the interactions between 'subject' and 'object' then things get really interesting and you begin to question what such an apparently great man meant when he said that what was revealed to him was done so by divinity.

To do so, of course, would mean you would have to understand the metaphysics of Indian thought and culture, which may be (rather basically) summarised to hold that the objective is merely a reflection of the absolute Subjective, i.e. divinity.

This is especially important because it is from this cultural standpoint that these visions were realised. I could go on if anyone is interested.

please do. i'd contribute more in response to encourage you, but anything i have to say on the topic is something i've drawn from my own processes and probably not worth discussing until i've at least done Wikipedia on it. and it's not really a topic i've heard discussed before, even in the context of "genius". though that is the context in which i've pieced them together. disclaimer IANAG
I think use of that acronym itself constitutes geekiness ;)

A bit of background: I've spent the last three years of my life studying Indian metaphysics in India at a traditional academy known as an 'ashram'. The environment was somewhat similar to the original Greek academies, I can imagine, but that is speculation. I also have interests in tech, programming and philosophy. Please note that I am not trying to 'prove anything' either correct or incorrect -- indeed, this would not be the forum to do so. Rather, an opportunity to be of service to another individual and present two different views of this experience of the world and thus life itself.

For the western mind, indeed, for my mind -- it is ingrained to a point of 'truth' that there is a single objective world around us which presents itself to various individuals via the senses. It literally took me 1.5 years of serious mental deconstruction, analysis and questioning before I was able to entertain the thought that my body, brain and indeed the world around me were a _product_ of the mind, and did not produce the mind itself. Consider that. It's your whole system of thinking about the world turned upside down.

In building a metaphysical system for the world and individual, the Indians defined an individual as a 'body-mind-intellect' (BMI) experiencing 'perceptions-emotions-thoughts' (PET). The former they termed the 'relative subject' and the latter the 'relative object'. It is easy to see that these cover EVERY aspect of human experience.

I am taking a shortcut and would be happy to clarify further, but there is a facet of the spiritual path in India known as bhakti yoga (the science of union with the Divine through emotion) which targets the mind in its emotional capacity. It is not uncommon, then, to use an IDOL (which is NOT the same as the goal itself) to represent the goal of absolute subjectivity which one is striving for and cannot be perceived, felt or conceived via the BMI and their PET.

This representation, symbol, takes the form of a goddess/god whose strange and crazy figures and ornamentation are intended to initially (1) evoke questions in the seeker as t to their presence and (2) inspire more devotion once their significance is intellectually understood.

Coming back to the genius mathematician. If one traces one's own moments of lucidity or inspiration, one would find that they come at times when the mind is relatively calm, composed and engaged in a subject. The extrapolation of this is the state of bhakti yoga (complete absorption in the ideas represented by the deity), and most adherents thereto ascribe the 'doing' of their thoughts, words and deeds to the deity Itself, to efface their egos and move closer to their ideal of transcending the world itself.

Now look at that simple statement: "These ideas were revealed to me by my God" [paraphrase]. The simplistic notion that an apparition appeared before him or in his mind to provide him with these incredible insights does not hold to a scientifically-inclined mind. But the notion that he had trained his mind so highly that he was able to become absorbed single-thoughtfully upon a subject to the extent that he was able to perceive subtle nuances therein, indeed subtle nuances that would seem 'magical' to a non-trained observer is not unthinkable. That he then ascribed his discoveries to a deity is something that happens daily in Indian life and as previously covered is intended as an effacement and ultimate transcendence of the ego and the world it projects.

I can highly recommend A Parthasarathy's Vedanta Treatise if you are interested further.

Though it's more historical fiction than non-fiction, I would also recommend:
One nice example of deep insight is the Ramanujan Tau sequence, which comes from expanding out the product (1-q) (1-q^2) (1-q^3) all to the 24th power and multiplied by q, as q-24q^2+252q^3-...

Ramanujan noticed that the coefficients a_n have some remarkable arithmetic properties, namely the sequence is multiplicative: a_m a_n = a_{mn} when m and n are relatively prime. There's a more complicated formula when m and n have a common divisor, and he also conjectured that the size of a_p is upwards of 2*p^5.5 when p is prime.

This led to the beautiful study of modular forms and all of the above statements have profound explanations, the last of which was proven 58 years later by Deligne in 1974, as the Riemann Hypothesis for curves.

PS: there are plenty of random discoveries that can be made about the sequence, for example a_n is congruent mod 691 to the sum of the 11th powers of all divisors of n. This also has a good explanation that is now known. Lehmer conjectured in 1947 that a_n is never 0, which has been verified up to n=22798241520242687999, but is still an open question.

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