The Great Equation

“Is there a solution to everything?” asked Daniel.

Mr. Thompson said, “There may be, Daniel. They may be. But we can’t be sure of it. What we can do is to try to find it. And if we try hard enough, maybe we’ll succeed.”

“Are there solutions to war, or hunger, or hatred, or death?”

“These are unusual questions for a Grade 12 Mathematics class, Daniel. But Maths is a broad subject. I would be happy for the class to consider them. However, we must first complete today’s exercise in Algebra.” Mr Thompson wrote an X in the middle of the board, and then in his characteristic, ambidextrous way, spread his arms wide, and began writing a’s, b’s, and c’s on both ends of the board, the strings of letters converging towards the centre, marching towards the unknown X.

Mr. Thompson had entertained Daniel’s question, but it had not been answered, and it remained on Daniel’s mind for the rest of the day. He decided to pose that question to other teachers too. “Not to everything,” his science teacher said. “But we can use scientific methodology such as induction and deduction to explore the question.”

His English teacher said, “There is no solution to anything. There are only the words describing that thing, which are constantly changing their cultural semantics.”

His Religious Studies teacher said, “Yes, there is. For most people in the world the solution is God.” Daniel was not convinced by this. If God was the solution, then what was the question? “Please can we have war? And hunger? And hatred? And death?”

Daniel asked his parents the same question that night; “Is there a solution to everything?”

“Of course there is, Daniel,” they said. “The solution is love – like parents have for their children. Selfless love.” Daniel wondered how this differed from selfish love – where your love for a particular person, nation, tribe, or race leads to war, hunger, hatred, and death.

Of all the answers he’d heard, Daniel liked Mr. Thompson’s best – that there may be an answer, and we had to look for it. No wonder Math was his favourite class. Did the “we” include himself, he wondered? Or should such questions be left to professionals – professors at universities, and politicians in governments. But weren’t their solutions – theories and policies – just as flawed as everyone else’s?

Daniel recalled his mother’s book called The Power of Now. It said that the past was a memory, and the future a fantasy; the only thing that truly existed was Now. So if he wanted to find a solution to anything, he’d better start now. Daniel pulled out a large sheet of cardboard that he was saving for art class, uncapped a sharpie, and locked his bedroom door. He wondered how to begin finding a solution to everything.

Maybe he should start with the Known. This was usually represented by letters at the beginning of the alphabet – so he wrote down a smattering of a’s, b’s, and c’s. Next were the Unknowns, shown by letters at the end of the alphabet. He wrote a scattering of x’s, y’s, and z’s. He would have to get somehow from the Knowns to the Unknowns, so better throw in some Operations. He liberally spread +’s, ‘s, ×’s, and ÷’s.

Daniel stared at the cardboard sheet glumly. It was just a mess of letters and signs. What was the next step? Maybe Calculus? He slotted in a bunch of Integration and Differentiation symbols – long s’s and f (symbols). He added Real and Imaginary numbers – “A little imagination never hurts,” his Art teacher had told him – by throwing a heavy dusting of integers and i’s across the page. Then some Irrational numbers, like π and e. He didn’t have room to write them out – for they continued infinitely.

It was starting to look more like a galaxy than an equation. Clusters appeared here and there, like solar systems. What was still missing, he wondered? He stared deeply into the heart of the mess, and spun it around. He realized that the 3 looked like an unformed Om; the 8 was an infinity symbol rotated; + signs were crosses; 0 was the pagan symbol of nature’s cycles, and π looked like a torii shrine.

Yes! Holy symbols! They weren’t that different from mathematical symbols. Daniel added the symbols he had learnt in Religious Studies – Crosses, Crescent Moons, Stars of David, Wheels of Life, Khandas, Om’s, Yin-Yangs, Chinese water symbols, Torii shrines, and Circles. This universe was really taking shape! But as a solution to everything, it still had some way to go.

Then it struck him. It wasn’t a single Unknown that he was trying to uncover. His second question about war, hunger, hatred, and death had recognized this fact. This was a set of Simultaneous Equations – there was no simple solution, though maybe a very complex one. A grade 12 boy after the ultimate truth; how foolish indeed. He had been kidding himself.

He sat for a while sadly, and then beheld a spark of hope. What if the solution wasn’t logical or mathematical? What if there was no proof? What if he looked at things in a way that was irrational? What then?

He treated the mathematical cloud before him as a 3-D picture, and relaxed his eyes and mind. Things looked very different when he did this, but however hard he tried, no hidden pattern emerged. It did, however, start to look like something from science class – a map of Cosmic Microwave Background radiation; shock wave remnants of Big Bang. Then he saw something else – the empty spaces between numbers, symbols, and signs. Was this like Dark Energy: the universe’s hidden constituent?

There was a knocking somewhere, which broke his concentration. It was his bedroom door. “Daniel,” called his mother.

“Ok, hang on a minute,” he called out. He felt that he had been getting somewhere on his journey of deepest truth, and was annoyed at being disturbed. He couldn’t be bothered to get up so called out, “Come in, mum.”

“I can’t love.” Daniel had forgotten he’d locked the door.

He said, “Oh sorry, let me open it.”

As he opened the door, he realized his mistake. If the door was locked on the outside, what he had to do was open it from within. The answer did not lie in the Known, Unknown, Operations, Calculus, Real or Imaginary or Irrational numbers, nor in Holy Symbols, 3-D pictures, CMB or Dark Energy. The answer for him was the door he chose to open. He was the solution to everything.

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2 Responses to “The Great Equation”

  1. Very interesting. Maybe H.L. Mencken was wrong.

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