Lately, I’ve been thinking about my relationship with numbers. Reliable, predictable, unchanging and familiar, numbers have been my lifelong friends ever since my first primary school teacher sent me to work through my maths books alone in the quiet room so that the other children wouldn’t disturb me. Whatever may be crazy in this world, numbers always make sense and always will make sense. I could argue my opinions on alternative therapies or which actor made the best Doctor Who until the breath leaves my body and someone will always disagree with me, but seven multiplied by eight will always be fifty-six. Regardless of language, culture, religion or politics, it is a fact which cannot be disputed. There is no room for opinion or manipulation. An alien from the other side of the universe would still agree that 7 x 8 = 56. I find that beautiful.
I have begun to wonder whether the way I visualise numbers is unusual. I have a good memory for numbers and am able to remember not just telephone numbers and my own various ID numbers, account numbers and the like, but also a whole host of numbers used in my work to the extent that colleagues ask me rather than look the numbers up for themselves! Sometimes, when I need to recall a number, it doesn’t come straight away. I close my eyes and wait for a moment, but it isn’t necessarily that the numbers are missing. I can often see the numbers, just without any kind of sequence. Closing my eyes for a moment allows the numbers to shuffle and sort themselves into their correct positions so that I can just read the whole number from the mental image. I would be interested to know how my brain actually stores the data for it to retrieve the numbers that way.
I would also be interested to know how commonplace my relationship with numbers is, but it’s somewhat difficult to explain. For a long time my mental arithmetic skills were like an old bicycle at the back of the garage: unused and rusty., but since I have regained those skills, I don’t even need to work out change any more. I just know the correct change because I can see it in my head like the last piece of a jigsaw: a visual piece with size and form that fits onto the value of the transaction to complete the whole sum that was offered.
I imagine that some people relate to words in a similar way, while others probably relate to subjects, systems or concepts that I can’t even guess. I wonder therefore what can be inferred about me from such an affiliation with the constants that form the building blocks of mathematics and the universe. It sounds kind of cool expressed like that. Well, cool in a geeky sense