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No. 56: Mar-Apr 1988

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Reincarnation of ramanujan?

In India, Shakuntala Devi is considered to be the reincarnation of Srinivasa Ramanujan, about whom we heard in the above item. We will not comment on the reincarnation bit, but it does seem that S. Devi's remarkable capabilities are somewhat different from those of Ramanujan. The latter intuitively saw mathematical relationships as expressed in equations and identities; Devi is a mental calculator of no mean talent.

In 1977, Ms. Devi beat a UNIVAC 1108 computer to the 23rd root of a 201-digit number. The machine, which required two hours to program for the task, took more than a minto solve the problem. She took 50 seconds.

"And, in 1981, she made the Guinness Book of World Records as the 'Human Computer' by correctly multiplying two 13-digit numbers -- 7,686,369,774,870 times 2,465,099,745,779 -- in 28 seconds. The awesome answer? 18,947,668,177, 995,426,462,773,730."

S. Devi is also a calendar calculator, being able to name the day of the week for any date in the past or future, taking into account leap years and calendar changes.

She never attended school or had any formal mathematical training! (Young, Luther; "Numbers Whiz Takes Delight in Beating Computers;" Baltimore Sun, January 21, 1988, p. A1.)

Comment. Such prodigies have appeared regularly down recorded history. What is the meaning of the phenomenon? Why does evolution produce talents that far exceed the "need" of the species? Is there a "need" that we are not aware of? It could be that prodigies are precursors of new evolutionary developments, which will leave poor homo sapi ens in the intellectual dust. Surely, science fiction has a story about a secret society of transcendent geniuses living under some mountain or even on some planet! Maybe that's how "the face on Mars" got there!

From Science Frontiers #56, MAR-APR 1988. 1988-2000 William R. Corliss