Most people misunderstand reading about Augustus and other Roman emperors being worshipped in ancient times. The practice was a bit more subtle and less of a caricature than it’s made out in our day. Much like guardian angels, in whom billions of Christians certainly believe today, Romans imagined a “genius” not just accompanying them throughout their lives, but more or less the higher entity that was inextricably connected to them at the most intimate levels.
The genii of people like Julius Caesar and Marcus Aurelius doubtlessly had to be of the higher and more powerful order than genii who guided other lesser mortals; it seemed quite natural to worship them. Again, it wasn’t the man or woman themselves being adored, but the genii of those exalted personages.
In our own age genius means something else, but actually, still with at least something of the old meaning. I brought to life a story-bound genius great-niece of Srinivasa Ramanujan in sci-fi a few years ago; the real Ramanujan was a more purely phenomenal genius than could ever be concocted in fiction. Invited to the UK and sponsored by fellow world-class mathematician and great friend, G.H. Hardy, Ramanujan discovered an astounding number of contributions to higher mathematics, over three thousand identities, constants and equations, earning him election as a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge in 1918.
It’s not so much what Ramanujan discovered, but how he did it. He’s the young mathematician so often portrayed or written about, in hospital in London, near death with tuberculosis, yet making the off-handed remark about the taxi number, #1729, of his arriving visitor, Hardy — the smallest integer which can be expressed as the sum of two cubed numbers in two different ways (Hardy-Ramanujan number) — which he had somehow calculated on the spot within the breath.
Those are the sort of miracles being discussed when “genius” is referenced today. And, the fact is that there is absolutely no understanding at all about how such an ability comes to be, nor how it operates. Until someone can come up with a better explanation, it’s hardly unreasonable to call it what it most seems to be, namely, the closest evidence to put forth for a religious, meta-physical spiritualism at the deepest foundation of our species. That’s what Ramanujan said it was.
That is doubtlessly what the vast majority of humans alive on the planet believe — Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jew, Zoroastrian, Baha’i, Buddhist, Chinese folk religionist — and including many who may not worship at any particular church at all but might be counted as well.
Scientists who haven’t any answers themselves but who might be inclined nonetheless to slough off religionist views should at least be exposed to the numbers they love so much: that’s one billion slamming the door on six billion of the rest of the planet’s population.
This grasping in the dark extends even to the true value of what such super-human perception is or will be, now or later — since that too is completely unknown. Ramanujan, for example, played around with pi a lot. The different ways he saw in his mind to construct pi, with squares and roots and this and that, is mind-boggling. We can only guess to what end.
Pi isn’t just any old number though. It’s the lynch pin in just about everything. Take away pi and it all immediately tumbles right back to the Stone Age. Other musings of Ramanujan turned out later to be of aid to physicists studying electron jumps between orbital shells in atoms, so everything he may wind up having influenced is certainly up in the air even now, a century after his death next year. It’s a safe bet there’s more in his legacy than anyone knows at present.
That kind of pure human genius proves that probably the truest description of reality wasn’t penned by any Nobel laureate at all, but by a scribe who managed to do it in 16 pithy and well-chosen words: “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
There are no such things as sasquatches, chupacabras, vampires, and lake monsters, but super-human entities like Ramanujan and a million others have and do exist. And it’s fine with the general public that science can’t really explain how they do. People just want the basic answers to as much as possible around them in the physical world, and for this they turn to science. For all the rest they have priests, pastors, rabbis, and mullahs.
In Ramanujan’s case he said it was Namagiri, the Hindu goddess of Creativity. She came to him and whispered the equations in his ears. That’s what Ramanujan said anyway — until the end of his very short life.
David Nabhan is a science writer, the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three previous books on earthquakes. Nabhan is also a science fiction writer ("Pilots of Borealis," 2015) and the author of many scores of newspaper and magazine op-eds. Nabhan has been featured on television and talk radio all over the world. His website is earthquakepredictors.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.