Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Ramsey Boys

Habemus papem!  The new pope seems to have a welcome core of humility (wooden cross, tendency to take public transport, preference for living in a manageably small apartment etc) which is refreshing.  It reminded me of a story that I have dined out on for decades about a similarly humble Archbishop of Canterbury when I was at school.  That prelate would be seen in his ceremonial kaftan buying his own socks in Marks and Sparks and was the only incumbent to have a chauffeur-driven Ford Fiesta.  I can discover no evidence of this fantasy on the internet – so I’ll have to concede St Martin’s cloak to the catholics (for the while). 

But I did spend some time ferreting through the biography of Michael Ramsey who was ABC at the time.  He became Warhol famous years after death, when a couple of bucketful’s of ceremonial artifacts were discovered in the River Wear in Durham, where Ramsey had lived for a few years in retirement. Seems he had tried to raise money for charity by selling some of the golden trowels and silver chalices that he'd been gifted in his working life but these identifiable artifacts had re-surfaced on the auction circuit to cause offense to the original donors.  That put a stop to further discrete sales but didn't deal with the boxes in the attic.  So he went down to the Prebend's Bridge at the bottom of the street where he lived and dumped all the worldly artifacts in the river.  Maybe he was the sock archbishop after all?  

Michael Ramsey was also known for having an atheist brother, the brilliant mathematician Frank Ramsey.  But not before he'd made substantive contributions to mathematics (logic, decidability, combinatorics), philosophy (he was Wittgenstein's academic supervisor) and economics (he was friend and collaborator of Keynes).  He died at the age of 26 in Jan 1930.

The day after I'd read all this, my pal El Asturiano, sent me a link about interesting numbers including Pi. e, Phi and the Graham Number which is the largest number known: it takes 1000 characters just to describe it.  It turns out that Graham's Number is the upper end of (Frank) Ramsey's Theorem

Big number, small world.

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