Additional Math Pages & Resources

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Multiplication Mysteries

Yesterday I shared the discovery of a new material called Magic Gold. It's an alloy of gold and ceramic. In some respects, the fusion of these materials gives us more than the sum of the individual parts. Magic Gold is still gold, but lighter than gold, stronger than gold, and tougher than gold. It's a form of magical multiplication (I had to get math in here somehow, this is a math blog!)

Alchemy is a philosophical and magical tradition that seeks a philosopher's stone, an object that transforms base metals into gold or silver, and creates a drink that confers immortality - the elixir of life or fountain of youth.

Here's a poem from centuries ago:

Augmentation is of the Elixer indeed,
In goodness and quantity both for red and white
Multiplication is therefore as they do write,
That thing that doth augment medicines in each degree,
In colour, in odor, in virtue and also in quantity.

And why may you multiply this medicine infinitely,
Forsooth the cause is this,
For it is as fire, which kindled will never die,
Dwelling with you, as fire does in houses,
Of which one spark may make more fire this way,
As musk in pigments and other spices more,
In virtue multiplied, and our medicine right so ...

Keep in your fire therefore both morning and evening,
So that you do not need to run from house to house,
Among thy neighbors to seek or borrow your fire,
The more you keep, the more good shall you win,
Multiplying it always more and more within your glass,
By feeding with Mercury unto your lives end,
So shall you have more than you need to spend.

Did you notice the distinctly modern tone in this ancient poetry? Multiply what you have, magically, so you will have more than you need to spend for the rest of your life? Sadly, despite the promises of our 401(k) brochures, and the ready availability of alchemic symbols on the Web, magical multiplication eludes our grasp today.
As human beings, we are pretty good at division - diluting and sweetening (this blog's topics of the past few days). We can water anything down and make it go farther for less cost. It's a lot more difficult to multiply and get something out of nothing, because in non-magical math, zero times any quantity is still equal to zero.

In his Philosopher's Stone, Van Morrison articulates this eternal search, lamenting his unending task of writing new songs:

Out on the highways and the by-ways all alone
I'm still searching for, searching for my home
Up in the morning, out on the road
My head is aching and my hands are cold

I'm looking for the silver lining in the clouds
I'm searching for the philosophers stone

It's a hard road, Its a hard road daddy-o
When my job is turning lead into gold
I'm on the road again and I'm searching for
The philosophers stone

Even my best friends they don't know
That my job is turning lead into gold.

Up in the morning, up in the morning
When the streets are white with snow
Up in the morning, out on the job
Searching for the philosophers stone.