haiga, history, math, photography

Mystic’s Math


Simple shapes
sing silent songs
for those who listen.

Best known today for his theorem about right triangles, the ancient mystic Pythagoras was also big on numbers.  How do they relate to each other in pure math?  How might they help explain the natural world?  How does changing the length of a lyre string affect its pitch?  Pythagoras and friends took the first tentative steps toward understanding the physics of music.

While many haiku poets don’t count syllables, those that do often abide by rules that Pythagoras would have liked.  In the traditional 5-7-5 form, the total number of syllables is prime (as are 5 and 7).  Likewise in the shorter 3-5-3 form.  Prime numbers were a big deal to ancient mathematicians.  They are still a big deal for encrypting credit card numbers in e-commerce.

Pythagoras would have liked the syllable counts 3-4-5 in this post’s haiku for a different reason.  They form the smallest Pythagorean triple.  (A right triangle could have sides that are 3, 4, and 5 units long.)  While most triples like this are too big or lopsided for 3-line poems, somebody might use 6-8-10.

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