“Do you know what the foundation of mathematics is?" I ask. "The foundation of
mathematics is numbers. If anyone asked me what makes me truly happy, I would
say: numbers. Snow and ice and numbers. And do you know why?"
He splits the claws with a nutcracker and pulls out the meat with curved tweezers.
"Because the number system is like human life. First you have the natural numbers.
The ones that are whole and positive. The numbers of a small child. But human
consciousness expands. The child discovers a sense of longing, and do you know
what the mathematical expression is for longing?"
He adds cream and several drops of orange juice to the soup.
"The negative numbers. The formalization of the feeling that you are missing
something. And human consciousness expands and grows even more, and the child
discovers the in between spaces. Between stones, between pieces of moss on the
stones, between people. And between numbers. And do you know what that leads
to? It leads to fractions. Whole numbers plus fractions produce rational numbers.
And human consciousness doesn't stop there. It wants to go beyond reason. It adds
an operation as absurd as the extraction of roots. And produces irrational numbers."
He warms French bread in the oven and fills the pepper mill.
"It's a form of madness.' Because the irrational numbers are infinite. They can't be
written down. They force human consciousness out beyond the limits. And by adding
irrational numbers to rational numbers, you get real numbers.”