Thursday, 14 April 2016

The Man who knew Infinity (4½ Stars)

"An equation is only worth something if it expresses the thoughts of God".

This film is a true story about the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. Despite having received only limited formal training in Mathematics he was able to write hundreds of mathematical statements and conjectures. His weakness was that the equations came to him intuitively, so he could not prove them. Many of his equations were in regard to infinite series, which is the reason for the film's title.

Ramanujan came from a poor family in Madras. He travelled to England in 1914 with the intention of publishing his equations. He met Professor Hardy at Cambridge University, who became a close friend. Hardy tried to teach Ramanujan how to prove his equations. Apart from Hardy very few of the professors at Cambridge accepted him, partly because of his unconventional approach to Mathematics, partly because he was an Indian.

This is a beautiful film that concentrates on Ramanujan's personal life, in particular his relationships to his wife, his mother and Hardy. Even though the film has to do with complex mathematical issues, everything is presented in a way that remains entertaining to the majority of viewers who only learnt Mathematics for a few years at school.

Let me make a comment on the quote at the beginning of this post. It was spoken by Ramanujan in the film, because he was a deeply religious man (a Hindu). Maybe he really spoke these words when he was alive. If he did, he was wrong. Let me explain my reasoning.

Let's assume for a moment that God exists. Let's also assume that God created the universe. An omnipotent God could have created any number of universes. He could have created a universe in which our planet is the base with nothing beneath us, i.e. we would live on a flat planet. He could have created a universe without gravity, where unattached objects float off into space. However, God couldn't have created a universe in which 1 + 1 = 3. Mathematical principles predate God, and God doesn't have the power to change them. In fact, mathematical principles would exist if neither God nor the universe had ever existed. God isn't omnipotent when it comes to Mathematics. He has to obey its rules, just like we do. When we study Mathematics we're learning absolute truths that are greater than God. Equations, if they are true, aren't words spoken by God, they're words that God himself must listen to in awe.

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