Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0001543, Tue, 10 Dec 1996 16:04:21 -0800

Feyman & VN: Kindred spirits? (fwd)
EDITOR'S COMMENT. My thanks to Brian Gross <briang@dingo.sr.hp.com> for
his information below. As some of you know, VN's "colored hearing" or
synaesthesia is one of my pet subjects. In a chapter of my WORLDS IN
REGRESSION, I posit a role for synaesthesia in VN's creative process (via
memory). There is also a more theoretical paper called something like
"The Role of Synaesthesia in Roman Jakobson's Theory of Language" in a
Festschrift for Edward Stankiewicz. The British TV science programme did
an hour on Synaesthesia a couple of years ago in which (inter much alia)
Dmitri Nabokov discussed his own and his father's synaesthesia.
The show researcher is Jan Klimkowski, a long-time NABOKV-L subscriber.
I thought I'd point out that the book Feynman mentions:

> "As I'm talking," he once said, "I see vague pictures of Bessel functions
> from Jahnke and Emde's book, with light tan Js, slightly violet-bluish
> Ns, and dark brown Xs flying around. And I wonder what the hell it must
> look like to the students."

is the classic "Tables of Functions with Formulae and Curves" by Engene
Jahnke and Fritz Emde. First published in 1933 (based on their 1909
work), it contains magnificent perspective drawings of Bessel and
other functions.

For one with a mathematics bent, Janke and Emde provide glimpses at
worlds as lovely and dramatic as those created by Nabokov.

It's interesting to learn that Feynman shared the trait with Nabokov of
seeing letters in color. I wonder if Feynman's coloring was due to the
use of the letters in the functions themselves: J (x), N (x); I wonder
p p
what caused Nabokov to see the colors he saw.

My copy of Jahnke and Emde happily perches above my computer with its
friends Gradshteyn and Ryzhik (among others) and reminds me that there
was a time when a "computer" was a human being.

Brian Gross