Today, my sources tell me, is Math Storytelling Day. One of several mathematically oriented holidays, the idea of this specific day is to focus on the anecdotal side of mathematics, to address mathematics in a manner that may be more acceptable to the ‘wordy types’ among us – the ones who prefer a good sentence to a good equation.
I was hoping to come up with an original story for this day, but sadly my muse failed to come to the party, so I will have to resort to sharing an existing mathematical anecdote, from our old friend Albert Einstein. OK, it’s only borderline maths, but what the heck…
Apparently, shortly after his appointment at Princeton, Einstein was invited to a tea in his honour. At the event, the excited hostess introduced the great man and asked if he could perhaps, in a few words, explain to the guests the theory of relativity.
Not missing a beat, he rose to his feet and shared the story of a walk he had with a blind friend. It was a warm day, so at one point Einstein said to his friend, “I could really do with a glass of milk!”
His blind friend asked, “I know what a glass is, but what is milk?”, to which Einstein replied, “Why, milk is a white fluid.”
“Now I know what fluid is,” the blind man responded, “but what is white?”
“Oh, white is the colour of a swan’s feathers.”
“Feathers, I know what they are, but what is a swan?”
“A swan is a bird with a crooked neck.”
“I know what a neck is, but what do you mean by crooked?”
Einstein realised the discussion could go on for a while, so instead he seized his blind friend’s arm, straightened it, and said “There, now your arm is straight.” He then bent his friend’s arm at the elbow, and said, “And now, your arm is crooked.”
To which his blind friend happily exclaimed, “Ah! Now I understand what milk is!”
At this point, Einstein politely smiled at his audience, and sat down.