April 16, 2021

Don Quixote and its numbers | Science

Don Quixote and its numbers | Science

It's known that Albert Einstein read The Quijote. It was the novel he had on his travels and he always had it on his bedside table. He felt a real attraction towards the Cervantes character; a manchego hidalgo for whom the cavalry was "a science that contains all or the most sciences in the world."

In turn, for Einstein, literature was not only going to be a way of relating to chance, but a way of identifying with pure mathematics, which he defined, in its form, as the poetry of logical ideas.

From an always creative point of view, Einstein kept his lack of respect towards rigid structures. He did it in a quixotic way, creating the irreverent Olympia Academy, along with a group of friends; a brotherhood with rituals typical of cavalry novels and where Einstein would be named president.

As things happened, it can be said that Einstein's scientific adventure was quixotic when he had to face the mills of the academic world of his time. "Now I am also an official member of the whore guild," he wrote in a letter, after getting his teaching position at the University of Zurich.

Illustration by Gustave Doré for 'Don Quixote'.
Illustration by Gustave Doré for 'Don Quixote'.

Quijoterías aside, it is possible that, led by its scientific condition, Albert Einstein wondered sometime by the speed of the blades of the mills that appear in the novel of Cervantes. It is even possible that he made his calculations about the value of the normal force between Rocinante and the La Mancha soil, which, being so horizontal, would coincide with the weight of the horse added to the bones of his rider, at the exact moment of ramming against the Giants. Surely Einstein analyzed the episodes of the novel from the abstractions proposed by the laws of physics. It is also possible that he enjoyed the rustic way of doing arithmetic operations that Sancho Panza had.

The mental calculation made by Sancho at the end of the second part of the book shows us that Cervantes was an author who completed his characters with the most intimate details. In this case, Don Quixote has proposed that he put a price on each whip he will receive and Sancho replies that "a cuartillo", that is, a quarter of the real for each whip. Taking up accounts, Sancho assures that he will not take less than three thousand three hundred quarts. Then he exposes his mental calculation, separating thousands of hundreds, the three thousand of the three hundred and then set out to make halves and half halves; resulting in a numerical game:

(3,300: 4) = (3,000 + 300): 4 = 3,000: 4 + 300: 4 = 750 + 75 = 825

"They are for all eight hundred and twenty-five reals", replies Sancho, wanting to arrive with the money to his house "rich and happy, although well flogged".

The Cervantes novel is not only full of arithmetic winks as the cited, but also algebraic, geometric and even logical, serve as an example of the famous paradox of the hanged, when Sancho, governor of the Insular Barataria, comes a stranger with a story that, in the end, is contrary to all logic to present two equal options in regard to its possibility.

According to the stranger, a river divided two terms of the same manor and on this river there was a bridge and also a gallows. The law said that if someone went over the bridge, he had to swear first where he was going and what he was going for. If he told the truth, he was allowed to pass and, if he lied, he died hanged.

Then, it happened that a man went to cross the bridge swearing that he was going to die in that gallows. If he was left free, he would lie in his oath and, for lying, he should be hanged, but if he was hanged he would have sworn the truth and, for that reason, to tell the truth, he should have been free.

Sancho faced a paradox that in the end will resolve leaving the man alive. Whatever he did, if he hanged him or if he left him free, with either option, Sancho would break the law.

That is why he had a logical exit in which he demonstrated his ability to solve the paradox. The same logic that he combined with cunning when he had to whip himself. Instead of striking his body, he did it against the trunk of a tree.

The stone ax It's a section where Montero Glez, with a desire for prose, exercises its particular siege on scientific reality to show that science and art are complementary forms of knowledge.

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