Saturday, 17 November 2007
I had a "bad Greek" day yesterday. I watched the news, and understood little. It didn't help matters that my favourite newsreader Emilia had the evening off. I read a couple of pages of "Eleftheros Tipos" (a daily paper), then decided I was too tired. I didn't even look at the Garfield strip.
I'm currently reading "The Autobiography of Light" by Giorgos Grammatikakis (a physics professor at Crete University). This is a large book with over 400 pages, and I'm on page 76. So, unless I want to spend the rest of my life on this book, I thought I'd better read some more. I did a page, and had to look up about 10 words. Not good.
I wonder if Alexis Lemaire has off days? He's the "human computer" who calculated the 13th root of a 200 digit number without the aid of pencil, paper, calculator or a computer. Of course, there's no point asking "why?", any more than you'd ask a weight lifter why they bother when a machine can do so much better.
My mental arithmetic is better than many people - any time I've had the misfortune to be in a bank talking to a financial advisor about mortgages or other money things, there's almost always a point at which I'll say something like "So that would cost x", or "That's about y%", and the salesman (lets face it that's what they are) will say patronisingly, "Let me work out the figures", and spend a few minutes tapping away only to do a double-take when he gets the answer.
But like most people, I'm only really interested in being able to use my brain for things I want to do - I don't want to "exercise" it for its own sake - after all, no-one, not even NASA launching a rocket to Mars, is going to need to know the thirteenth root of a 200 digit number.
The main thing you need to do mental arithmetic is a very good memory. Alexis Lamaire's must be very good indeed. Seeing him on the television, it looked like he didn't need to memorise the 200-digit number, but nevertheless, holding 14 digits of the answer in his head, and intermediate calculations, is something that most of us wouldn't be able to do.
Perhaps with his brain, I could have learned the Greek dictionary off by heart. On the other hand, I wouldn't be able to re-read crime thrillers if I could remember all of the endings.
There's another very good reason not to be a human computer - you don't have the ultimate excuse for not having done something: "I forgot."