Monday, July 18th, 2011...11:06 am

Silently to infinity and beyond

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Mime, at least in the tradition of the great Marcel Marceau, is inherently artistic and precise in its physical articulation. Does such a limited overview of mime already set it apart from the logical field of mathematics? I don’t believe so. Mathematicians can be silenced by an elegant proof, which we may describe as beautiful. Further, mathematics does not necessarily rely on words to convey its truths. Simply consider the Proofs without Words books of Roger B. Nelsen (Lewis and Clark College).

Tim Chartier cuts an infinite rope

The ability to discuss math without words is an important nonempty overlap between mime and math. To further emphasize this idea, I first lean on the words of a master of mime with whom I trained. Marcel Marceau would often say, when not onstage of course:

“Mime makes the invisible visible.”

Such a simple concept serves as a guiding principle of pantomime which lives in imaginary worlds created by the movement artist. Audiences, in their genius as he talked about it, could enter and see great truths about themselves and humanity.

Regarding the power of seeing the invisible in mathematics, Keith Devlin states it quite well in his book The Language of Mathematics; he writes:

“Mathematics is the science of patterns, and those patterns can be found anywhere you care to look for them, in the physical universe, in the living world, or even in our own minds…mathematics serves us by making the invisible visible.”

Devlin’s text echos Marcel Marceau’s spoken words regarding the power of mime to make the invisible visible. At least conceptually, mime and mathematics can converge or at least momentarily intersect.

Mathematics lives largely in an unseen world. Mathematicians see the relationships of such entities without physical interaction. Leaning again on Devlin’s words but this time from The Math Gene, we read:

“The difference is that, in mathematics, the off-line thought is focused on objects that are themselves pure abstractions, whereas in everyday life our thoughts generally focus on real objects or fictional versions of real objects…”

Devlin argues that mathematicians see math as stories in which the characters (mathematical entities) interact through mathematical operations or relationships. Mime also leans heavily on people’s abilities to visualize the invisible. In this way, mime can contextualize mathematical ideas and enable an audience to place an abstract concept into a story.

Given my training in mime, I like to introduce mathematical ideas through mime. In time, I hope to post a variety of my sketches. For now, let’s investigate infinity, a profound concept. As you watch the video, see if you can uncover ideas of the infinite through this silent sketch about a rope that goes on forever in both directions.


Mime-matics – the infinite rope from Tim Chartier on Vimeo.

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