MathScience

Calendar Curiosity: Happy Birthday John Wallis!

John Wallis was an English mathematician born on November 23rd, 1616. He is partially credited for the development of infinitesimal calculus. But what he gets full credit for and is his creation of the infinity symbol!

The infinity symbol is important to math, science and often to designers and philosophers. Infinity itself is a very difficult concept to fully grasp and something humans seem to enjoy pondering. Often our tiny non-mathematician brains have difficulties truly understanding the idea of infinite space or infinite time and so we take these hard-to-absorb concepts and clumsily apply them to concepts we think we understand, such as a lifetime or the idea of love. Comparing an infinite concept to a finite one is of course flawed at best but it helps us to try to envision the vastness of infinity.

I have done this myself. On August 8th, 2008 I married my sweetheart. We picked that date for two reasons. One, because 8•8•08 would be a date that was easy to remember when we were old and senile (you really only have to remember the one number) and two, because an 8 turned on it’s side is the symbol for infinity.

Symbolically, we were saying our love was a promise that would last forever. Our love was for infinity.

Of course, I realize that forever in human terms and forever in infinity and math terms are very different beasts. But through a romantic lens, it was a moment in time were two tiny mortals could clumsily envelope their love in a veil of mathematics and somewhat arbitrary numbers. Ahhh, geeky love!

So thanks, John Wallis and happy birthday! Your contribution to math has touched the life of thinkers and dreamers alike!

Jumpstart your understanding of the mathematical contributions of John Wallis by clicking his wikipedia page.

*Surly-Ramics infinity jewelry by yours truly.

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Amy Roth

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics She is the fearless leader of Mad Art Lab and cohost of Makers' Hustle Podcast Support her on Patreon. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+.

1 Comment

  1. November 23, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    Love this. =)

    I remember Ira Glass speaking during the introduction to an episode of This American Life about using scientific and mathematical concepts as metaphors for other things in life…and how it annoys the crap out of the scientists and mathematicians. Whatever!

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