Mistress Math

This is a tragicomic poem with a moral. It was written using couplets and ten-line stanzas.

Long ago, Math left her obscurity,
And, soon after, she lost her purity;
Men have embraced her in every field,
For when they ask her, she always does yield;
For she enjoys all of the attentions,
And men ignore all of her false pretensions;
See her standing under that pale lamp light?
She is valued most in the dead of the night;
For each scientist reads in his textbooks
Of her sine-wave curves and charming good looks.

She says, “Prove it all night, prove it all night!
Come and make love to me with all your might!”
How can she seduce so many good men?
How can she go where most have never been?
She’s a mistress who comes from abstraction;
That’s her strength and her fatal attraction;
She continually keeps you guessing,
And her love is a curse and a blessing;
For while men use her to prove that they’re right,
She has the last laugh in the morning’s light.

How has she led so many men from truth?
How has she wasted many a man’s youth?
She is deceptively simple at first,
But, in the end, she can make your brain burst;
For, at the start, she is easy indeed,
But her complexity can make your heart bleed;
At first, she says that you’re the only one,
While she is, with your colleague, having fun;
And just when you think you have figured her out,
A suspicious idea from your mind will sprout.

In every lab and in every field,
Men to her great power have kneeled;
For she teaches that what can be counted
Is real, while all else should be discounted;
She makes men mad trying to quantify
The world, but they’re working to simplify
The things that they still don’t understand,
The knowledge that is slipping through their hand;
They count something, and say that’s what it means;
They make models and graphs of complex scenes.

How does Math get away with all these things?
Why is she the tune that each scientist sings?
She tells men they truly understand her,
And that they now can fully command her;
And men are fooled by this simple deception,
As they simplify each new perception;
For if they cannot truly comprehend
All of the world’s wonders and apprehend,
They return to what they learned in their schools,
Where they recited their fact charts and rules.

So don’t be surprised when you see a shrink
Adding up all the thoughts that you think,
And don’t look so shocked when you find out
That someone dissected Einstein’s mind out;
For the doctor thought he needed to know
How each blood vessel did pump and flow;
And when he had counted all the brain cells,
And analyzed all the chemical smells,
He believed he knew the man in the brain,
But no true wisdom did he really gain.

When the astronomers count all the stars,
They’ll be no closer to knowing about Mars;
For though Math tells us we can use her skills,
Quantifying all qualities just chills
The heart that wants to know and comprehend,
And truly wants the whole world for a friend;
And those who think that they know their lovers
By counting their toes under the covers,
Have been misled by all of Math’s seductions,
And have blindly followed her instructions.

I’m going to tell you how to resist
Math’s skills, when she does forcefully insist
That she is understanding’s only source,
That she is on wisdom’s pathway and course;
You need to know that only One is real;
It is the only number that can heal;
All other numbers are imaginary;
They are One’s imagined adversary;
But if you would follow after Math’s charms,
You’d be attacking One with powerless arms.

All the differences cannot be arranged
Into groups without becoming estranged;
Everyone who needs more than one number
Is still in a dream, and still does slumber;
Two is the beginning of confusion
For those who keep living in illusion;
But One is what everyone will see
When men forsake Math and from her flee;
Math is the mistress of separation,
But single-mindedness is reparation.

(written c. September 2017)

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