Srinivasa Ramanujan — Beyond Inspiration

Srinivasa Ramanujan's imagination has no bounds. Some of his equations took a hundred years to understand. Many more are there to be understood.

Srinivasa Ramanujan's imagination has no bounds. Some of his equations took a hundred years to understand. Many more are there to be understood.
Srinivasa Ramanujan's imagination has no bounds. Some of his equations took a hundred years to understand. Many more are there to be understood.

We should bask on extensive knowledge that India produced since ancient times and try extending them.

Srinivasa Ramanujan though a household name, I started showing interest in him when a research colleague was working on cryptography using his equations. This has startled me enough. After some time he popped into my research in signal processing. Ramanujan has provided mathematical sums that can represent a periodic phenomenon, these sums can be used to represent signals. This is like a bomb exploding right on my face. There is no surprise that his mathematics provided the key to study black holes. In the words of Prof. Ken Ono, Thomas Jefferson Professor of Mathematics at the University of Virginia “Ramanujan produced theories that nobody needed until they needed them”[1].

How come any person’s work be so influential that it has found its way into Physics, Cryptography, Signal Processing, String Theory, even as extreme as quantum physics. I don’t think there is any person in the history of science whose work found its way into so diverse applications in so diverse fields. I am sure tomorrow if some new field emerges Ramanujan would have already been there. This has happened many times in the past and would repeat itself.

In Srinivasa Ramanujan’s own words “An equation for me has no meaning unless it represents a thought of God.”

My own research mentor was a great fan of Einstein. He spoke about Einstein for days together without getting tired. In fact, much of the science today has been influenced by the way Einstein has conducted his work. Einstein has proposed the ‘particle nature of light.’ Then it was argued that gravity should affect light. It was Eddington with his Eclipse experiment that was able to prove Einstein’s Hypothesis that, gravity indeed affects light. This Experiment has been the key to prove the Hypothesis or ‘brush it-aside.’ Karl Popper, a philosopher of science has framed this into ‘Falsification.’ This served as an influential model for conducting research.

For some reason, it was difficult for me to connect with Einstein as inspiration and follow the research models from the West. One of the biggest flaws that I see in the research models and methodologies across all spectrums is, its inability to understand Creativity. In one of the influential papers in ‘Information System’ it has been mentioned, ‘The Discovery process is not well understood’[2]. It further adds, “Mainstream philosophy of science has historically regarded discovery as a creative process that psychologists may or may not be able to understand”[2]. Some times research framework may be very robust in their structure and approach but when it comes to generating new ideas they fail to address it and some of them suggesting to follow Lateral Thinking by Edward De Bono etc. On the other hand, we have Srinivasa Ramanujan whose imagination has no bounds. Some of his equations took a hundred years to understand. Many more are there to be understood. It is beyond the ability of the extraordinary genius even to begin to start understanding his work.

Ramanujan Nomination
Ramanujan Nomination by Trinity College, Cambridge

To better understand Srinivasa Ramanujan’s creativity, I had approached Prof. V Kannan, former Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University Of Hyderabad, and a renowned mathematician. Prof Kannan gave a key to comprehend Srinivasa Ramanujan. In Srinivasa Ramanujan’s own words “An equation for me has no meaning unless it represents a thought of God.” Later I came across Shri Aurobindo who has elaborated on this idea.

“In the East, especially in India, the metaphysical thinkers have tried, as in the west, to determine the nature of the highest truth by the intellect. But, in the first place, they have not given mental thinking the supreme rank as an instrument in the discovery of truth, but only a secondary status. The first rank has always been given to spiritual intuition and illumination and spiritual experience; an intellectual conclusion that contradicts this supreme authority is held invalid” [3].

Srinivasa Ramanujan proved that Mathematics in India is not an accident. He has shown how vast Mathematics can be, how beautiful the Intuition can be.

Prof. Kannan adds that Srinivasa Ramanujan’s approach was different than modern-day mathematics. He did not prove many of his theorems. Prof.Kannan added that “Ancient Indian Mathematicians” had the same approach. They are not interested in deducing and deriving one line from the previous line. The proof structure was not important to them. They were interested in having a good intuition and going beyond what others see. They were interested in finding out many more truths. In a way, Srinivasa Ramanujan is reflecting more an Indian way of thought”. Prof Kannan concludes that ancient Indian mathematical thought continued up to Srinivasa Ramanujan.

Today anything described as ‘Scientific’ has huge value. But we forget the fact that at the end product of scientific activity is knowledge. There are also few people in the scientific fraternity who has made science into religion (Religion used in a Western sense as having unflinching faith). The Western way of thinking is made a universal standard. Irrespective if we like or not we are forced to follow western methodologies and scientific frameworks. This is akin to eating South Indian ‘rasam rice’ or ‘masala dosa’ with a fork on the left hand and knife on the right hand. We are not producing good results. How Einstein was made the central figure in the scientific activity, likewise we need to make Srinivasa Ramanujan as a central figure and produce our own philosophies that are suited for Indian thought and temperament. We should bask on extensive knowledge that India produced since ancient times and try extending them. This will be only possible if we start looking at Srinivasa Ramanujan more. Srinivasa Ramanujan proved that Mathematics in India is not an accident. He has shown how vast Mathematics can be, how beautiful the Intuition can be.

If one looks at the life of Srinivasa Ramanujan, it is definitely filled with difficulties. He had extreme difficulties with his college education (Macaulay system), not many know that he had even run away from his house unable to cope with the pressure. This is something continuing even to this day. But during his early years, his Gurukula education and Vaishnava tradition had a huge influence on him. He was very generous in nature. He has never given up his Indian traditions, values, morals even in most difficult circumstances. Yet excelled in scientific work like none. I think there is a point here for everyone.

‘A Missing Boy’ Ramanujam letter

Even after his demise, his family was in abject poverty. His wife Janaki had to make a living from tailoring. If one looks closely at Srinivasa Ramanujan one can be sure that he would have neither cared fame or fortune or anything materialistic except the grace of his deity Lakshmi Namagiri.

I am sure everyone who admired Srinivasa Ramanujan and his work and wanting to do a bit compared to what he has done, would definitely aspire Goddess Lakshmi Namagiri for a little Inspiration.
( I would like to Thank Prof. Kannan for very valuable insights that were not covered in any biographies. To get more information on Srinivasa Ramanujan, the best way would be to watch the videos of Prof. Ken Ono.[4])

Note:
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.

References:

[1] Ramanujan: Dream of the possibleApr 20, 2020, Plus Maths Magazine

[2] Design and natural science research on information technology – Decision Support Systems

[3] The Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice – Amazon.in

[4] “Gems of Ramanujan and their Lasting Impact on Mathematics”, Ken OnoOct 17, 2017, YouTube

1 COMMENT

  1. During his birth centenary we did a small program for DD, but I couldn’t get an extensive interview from someone who was the head of Ramanujan institute of mathematics. If you are planning to continue an article on Ramanujan you should consider getting his views

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