Guest Blog: Keisha Thompson from ‘Man On the Moon’

Keisha Thompson writes about her love for numbers as well as words and how mathematics helped her make sense of the world.

Man On The Moon arrives at CPT on Dec 12-13 at 7pm, get your tickets here

Sometimes people are surprised to learn that I have a love for numbers as much as I have a love for words. In Man on the Moon I explore how mathematics has helped me to make sense of things in general life. Most importantly, it has been a valuable common interest for me and my dad. Apologies in advance but I can’t help but use this blog post as an opportunity to share this love you! Please indulge me as I share a list of 5 creative lessons I’ve learnt from maths.  

1. Infinity

I don’t know about you but when “infinity” was first sold to me, I thought it was a number. My teacher told me it was a number. The biggest one in the universe. I think I must have been in high school when I realised that the symbol did not represent a number. It represents a concept. It represents the concept of endlessness. The idea is that you can always “add 1”. You can always go one step further.

After my little classroom epiphany, the idea travelled over to the right side of my brain. Sometimes as an artist you can worry that you might run out of ideas – good ones anyway. But the infinity symbol always reassures me that creativity knows no bounds. I can always take my biggest idea and “add 1”.

2. Algebra

I’ve got a poem called Algebra.  

When I was in university I learnt that “algebra” is an Arabic word. It means “reunion of broken things”. During my training as a secondary teacher, I was encouraged to consider the history of the mathematics that I would be teaching. This was an invaluable lesson!

Thankfully due to my parents, I was aware that my curriculum in school was skewed. It was based on a world that had been pushed through the Western lens. However, for some reason, I’d never thought about maths in this way. Maths was abstract. Maths was numbers. Maths couldn’t be pushed through a Western lens. But no, I was wrong. A lot of the methods and knowledge we use in mathematics has come from all over the world. A vast amount of the theories we use today were developed in Asia and Africa but this is rarely mentioned in the classroom.

Whilst researching Pythagoras’ theorem, I found out that it was used to build the pyramids. Interesting. But the pyramids were built before Pythagoras was born. Very interesting. Once again maths was providing me with an important lesson – stay vigilante! Any information you engage with – question it. Nothing is abstract. Everything has a history – one that has most likely been mitigated to make a white, upper class, man look good…

3. Fractal Patterns

Clouds, human lungs, galaxies, leaves, sea shells, mountains. Wherever you look, we’re surrounded by spirals or if you want to be fancy – you could say we’re surrounded by fractal patterns or approximate Fibonacci sequences. But I’m not trying to be fancy (I promise). The basic thing that I love about fractal patterns in nature is they encapsulate the idea of universality.

Over the years as I’ve honed my skills as a writer I’ve come to appreciate the power of using the “local” to talk about the “global”, the “small” to talk about the “big”, the “personal” to talk about the “universal”. I think it’s really beautiful that nature is constantly telling us that story. If you look at the smallest part of a cloud, you could think that you’re looking a huge cloud and this magical phenomenon is held together by a sequence of numbers. I’ve gone on a bit of a waffle here. Don’t bother reading it again if I’ve lost you – just google “fractal patterns in nature”. Enjoy!

4. Bases

Another concept that bewildered me for a while was binary. It all became clear when I had a lesson on base systems. Typically we use a base system of 10 – the decimal system. We have nine numbers and a place holder (zero). Binary uses a base system of 2 (one number and a place holder).

I remember flying through a lesson where I had to convert numbers into different bases. By the end I was doing various calculations in a range of bases. I was on numerical fire! I learnt that the Babylonians used a base system of 60, the Mayans used base system of 20 and a number of ancient societies used base 12. (Apparently the base 12 system came from people using their knuckles to count).

My little mind was blown. I’d never considered that I didn’t have to count within the decimal system. If I wanted to, I could count in base 7 or base 13. Some may wonder why I would want to but that isn’t the point. Once again I had a mini epiphany that could push into a rest of my brain. Once I know the rules, I can do what I want with them. Fun ad infinitum.

5. Every now and again I like to read quotes from Einstein so I’m going to end this blog post with three of my favourites.  

Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

“Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy.”

Thanks for getting to end of my math-y musings. I hope to see you at my show Man on the Moon, 12th& 13th Dec.