Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for October 27th, 2013

The inscription on Brougham Bridge

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The inscription at Brougham Bridge

But on the 16th day of October…your mother was walking with me along the Royal Canal, to which she had perhaps driven; and although she talked with me now and then, an undercurrent of thought was going on in my mind which gave at last a result, whereof it is not too much to say that I felt at once the importance. An electric circuit seemed to close; and a spark flashed forth the herald (as I foresaw immediately) of many long years to come of definitely directed thought and work by myself, if spared, and, at all events, on the part of others if I should even be allowed to live long enough distinctly to communicate the discovery. Nor could I resist the impulse—unphilosophical as it may have been—to cut with a knife on a stone of Brougham Bridge, as we passed it, the fundamental formula with the symbols i, j, k:

2 = 2 = 2 = ijk = −1

which contains the Solution of the Problem, but, of course, the inscription has long since mouldered away.

William Rowan Hamilton, on the discovery of quaternions

Written by nevalalee

October 27, 2013 at 9:00 am

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