Article ID: CBB150662150

The Hard Math of Beauty: Gerard Manley Hopkins and "Spectral Numbers" (2021)


This article examines number-space synesthesia (NSS), a phenomenon first identified by Francis Galton in 1880. Experienced by a small percentage of the population, NSS involves the capacity to visualize numerals in highly personalized spatial formations. The article argues that the Victorian interest in NSS is tied to the larger nineteenth-century interest in non-Euclidean geometry. Analyzing the contributions of the priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins to his father's book The Cardinal Numbers (1887), in which the younger Hopkins describes his own experience of NSS, the article demonstrates that NSS operates in a similar way to non-Euclidean geometry by removing numbers from the realm of practical use and rendering them aesthetic objects. In the hands of Hopkins, numbers become the raw material for artistic creation.

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Authors & Contributors
Butler, Judith
Largier, Niklaus
Francois, Anne-Lise
Schickore, Jutta
Lanzoni, Susan Marie
Wade, Nicholas J.
British Journal for the History of Science
Journal of the History of the Neurosciences
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
German History
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century
Oxford University Press
University of Chicago Press
Ohio State University Press
University of Saskatchewan (Canada)
University of California, Berkeley
Palgrave Macmillan
Visual perception
Senses and sensation; perception
Science and art
Darwin, Erasmus
Darwin, Charles Robert
Lee, Vernon
Ruskin, John
Ramón y Cajal, Santiago
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
18th century
Early modern
Great Britain
British Admiralty

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