was out for a run on a woodland trail the other morning, and as usual some
helpful thoughts were surfacing as I chugged along that I could use in my latest
writing project. I was thinking about the assumptions that undergird
mathematics, that most rational of sciences. As a youngster I had whizzed
through math studies until I reached calculus, but then I faltered over its
presumes that an asymptotic curve that approaches a limit ever more closely but
never quite reaches it, can be assumed to actually reach it when it gets
infinitely close. When something gets really close to something else, does it
become it? There are many practical benefits to assuming that it does, but that
doesn’t make it the ultimate truth. It should be recognized for what it is: a
mystical or metaphysical aspect of the most rational of sciences. There is no
quantity of any kind that is infinite: infinity is wholly beyond the concept of
numbers. I just couldn’t buy it.
I realized in college, and what I recalled now as I zipped around a curve and
into a gentle descent, was that I had not been able to make the leap of faith
calculus required. At that exact moment I tripped over a small root in the
path—no, not a square root!—and launched myself into space. With a body memory
of years of competitive swimming, I did a perfect racing dive, arms
outstretched, head up, body flat, and crashed with a tremendous grunting thunk
onto the hard clay dirt of the trail. The trees shook.
first concern was if any serious damage was done, and miraculously I was okay.
A few scrapes and bruises. Then I realized my last thought before I soared into
space had been, “I could never make that leap….” My subconscious had taken me
literally and delivered an undeniable leap of faith! I burst out laughing.
was still face down in the dirt, and I began to wonder what my palpable
Freudian slip was trying to tell me. Did I become a worthless nobody because I failed
to make that leap of faith when I was invited to, and soon after dropped out of
the academic treadmill, or was it demonstrating to me that if I had made such a
leap I would have wound up face down in the dust, full of aches and regrets? I
suppose the answer is “both.” But I was still laughing. As they say in England,
“Mind the gap!”