Ramanujan – the Man who Knew Infinity

Source: Science and Non-Duality, 2016

Ramanujan was the first Indian professor to become a Fellow at Cambridge University. Hardy said: “He combined a power of generalization, a feeling for form, and a capacity for rapid modification of his hypotheses, that were often really startling, and made him, in his own peculiar field, without a rival in his day. The limitations of his knowledge were as startling as its profundity. Here was a man who could work out modular equations and theorems… to orders unheard of, whose mastery of continued fractions was… beyond that of any mathematician in the world, who had found for himself the functional equation of the zeta function and the dominant terms of many of the most famous problems in the analytic theory of numbers; and yet he had never heard of a doubly periodic function or of Cauchy’s theorem, and had indeed but the vaguest idea of what a function of a complex variable was…”

As for his place in the world of Mathematics, Paul Erdős of Israel’s Technion passed on Hardy’s personal ratings of mathematicians. Suppose that we rate mathematicians on the basis of pure talent on a scale from 0 to 100, Hardy gave himself a score of 25, J.E. Littlewood 30, David Hilbert 80 and Ramanujan 100.

While the beauty of the story has long impacted all students of mathematics, the nature of Ramanujan’s mathematical genius, and how he himself perceived it, tends to be less explored. Hardy called it some kind of deep ‘intuition’, but Ramanujan openly stated that he received the mathematical inspiration and sometimes whole formulas, through contacting the Hindu Goddess Namagiri while dreaming. Ramanujan was an observant Hindu, adept at dream interpretation and astrology. Growing up, he learned to worship Namagiri, the Hindu Goddess of creativity. He often understood mathematics and spirituality as one. He felt, for example, that zero represented Absolute Reality, and that infinity represented the many manifestations of that Reality.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently named Ramanujan as one of his favourite scientists. He points out that all that genius – an intelligence that transformed mathematics and physics – could have been lost, had Hardy not responded in those early pre-war years. What would have happened if Ramanujan had access to the internet? He asks. How many more Ramanujans are out there?

 

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