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π August 19, 2007

Posted by malthusio in Uncategorized.

In the movie “π”, the main character was a talented mathematician with an uncanny ability to do complex calculations in his head. This gift however came at a price. He was plagued by severe migraine headaches accompanied by seizures. This is likened to the Promethean gift of fire, “My mother told me not to stare into the sun, so when I was 6 I did”. His eyes were damaged, but not permanently. Since that time he had been blessed with mathematical insight.

He does research in number theory, trying to identify patterns in complex systems such as the stock market. This research is highly controversial, and is regarded by his teacher as unscientific. But here, and in other places he does find a pattern. He keeps on being confronted by the same number in seemingly unrelated spheres. From the stock market, to the Jewish Torah, and the number π. As his obsession blurs with reality, he becomes paranoid, and for good reason. Everyone from the government and big corporations to a Jewish sect are after what he knows.

In uncovering this secret he has acquired divine knowledge, and like the Promethean gift of fire, it has burned him (again). Just like the man with X-Ray eyes, he is overwhelmed by the information that his discovery gives him access to. Everything is significant. Everything is infused with pattern, and he sees all of it. Not only if he looks, but even if he doesn’t look. He can’t help but understand. At the same time, his migraines, seizures  and paranoia (justified paranoia, but paranoia nonetheless) become increasingly severe.

Finally he is at his limit, and can’t withstand the information he is bombarded with in having eaten this “forbidden fruit”, and he takes a power drill to the part of his head where the migraines seem to come from.  In this semi-lobotomized state he is at peace, and ballance is restored. However, he has forgotten what he knew, and has lost all of his mathematical ability. Just like Icarus, he had flown too high (and just like Daedalus his teacher had warned him of this). The intensity of the light of information melted the wax of his wings, and he fell but hard.

While the focus of this movie was on the idea that there are some things humans were never meant to know, I find it interesting that the consequences are essentially information overload. There is another possible reading of this message however, and that is that you need to be a different kind of being to properly wield knowledge. While the trans and post-humanists might agree with this (and I’m not against it), this is essentially similar to the management approach of throwing more bandwidth at a problem.

See “Should Machines Enslave the Human Race?



1. Should Machines Enslave the Human Race? « … - August 19, 2007

[…] Should Machines Enslave the Human Race? August 19, 2007 Posted by malthusio in Uncategorized. trackback See also “π“ […]

2. The Man With X-Ray Eyes « … - August 20, 2007

[…] See also ”π“ […]

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