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Ramanujan notes

A new movie on Ramanujan is coming out; mathematician Peter Woit gives it a very positive review, while film critic Anthony Lane is not so impressed. Both these reactions make sense, I guess (or so I say without having actually seen the movie myself).

I’ll take this as an occasion to plug my article on the Ramanujan principle: Tables are read as crude graphs.

P.S. For more on Ramanujan, check out this excellent overview from Stephen Wolfram. I’m so used to laughing at Wolfram but this really was thoughtful and informative, not at all cringe-inducing like his article about Mandelbrot. Even the inevitable places where Wolfram talks about himself are appropriate in that there really are similarities between Wolfram’s and Ramanjan’s styles of learning about general patterns through specific calculations. And I can’t really complain about all the product placement for Wolfram’s software: the man is, after all, running a business.

I did notice one jarring note, though, where Wolfram writes:

Littlewood speculated that Ramanujan might not be giving the proofs they assumed he had because he was afraid they’d steal his work. (Stealing was a major issue in academia then as it is now.)

I wonder if this last sentence was an allusion to the controversy of Wolfram publishing, in his own name, mathematical results that he’d actually paid other people to prove.

Also this:

My own [Wolfram’s] feeling—as someone who’s getting older myself—is that at least up to my age, many aspects of scientific and technical productivity actually steadily increase. . . . I think in some ways I’ve gotten slower over the years, and in some ways faster. . . . for me in particular, it also helps that over the years I’ve built all sorts of automation that I’ve been able to make use of.

I suppose you could consider ghostwritersprovers to be a form of automation!

Anyway, setting aside all the silly Wolfram stuff, that post on Ramanujan is worth reading.


  1. Ethan Bolker says:

    Thanks for the link to the Wolfram blog. For a look into mainstream experimental mathematics I recommend Much of it is not too technical. The end on “Coincidence and Fraud” is interesting.

  2. Rahul says:

    1+2+3+4+… = –1/12 is the strangest math result I’ve seen. In spite of reading about regularization etc. I’ve never *really* understood this result.

    Is there any intuition or insight that makes it less strange?

  3. Michael says:

    Rahul, I recommend reading Alon Amit’s answer on quora, it gives a great explanation..

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