NUMBERS IN THE MIND’S EYE
The fabric of nature is sewn and held together by numbers. At night and above the prison yard there must have been times when Malcolm viewed a clear sky revealing to him a majestic display of stars. And now, and of all places in a prison without any haze to obstruct his view, he must have appreciated the dazzling colorful full spectrum splendor of star light. He must have understood his infinitesimal smallness in relation to the universe. How so much less time he had to live when compared to the burning stars and countless planets which litter the night sky. And even how so much of the star light he saw was but the legacy of stars that had long burned out; yet, though burned out they had been stars which had burned so bright that billions of lights years away they would be known to conscious and sentient creatures to have once existed.
They each had their measured times, distances, velocities, amounts of heat disbursed into cold dark matter, lengths of cycles, and measurable mass. Finally, all of it is intellectually understandable and can be expressed logically in geometrical and numerical form as equations, inequalities, averages, ratios, and proportions on the canvas of the mind’s eye. A legacy is but a snapshot of an immeasurably short moment.
Malcolm X did not want to die in prison and have his legacy etched as prison graffiti on prison walls. So, to avoid dying in prison and to become the master of his legacy he decided that from thence forward the steps he took would be increasingly measured steps not erratic ones. He fathomed the meaning of the statement: “to measure is to know”. While in Charlestown State Prison Malcolm followed the batting average of Jackie Robinson saying that: “…no game ended without my refiguring his average up through his last at bat…” He realized the necessity of arithmetic and its application to solve problems so that he could know where he stood in the moment.
The fact that Malcolm X could refigure Jackie Robinson’s batting average on a daily basis means that Malcolm X knew how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. To calculate the average of a set of numbers requires the practical application of each arithmetic operation. His ability to do so is a learned skill driven by the power of logical thinking. He could grasp the theoretical nature of the arithmetic operations and each operations relation to the other. This leads to another question.
What did Malcolm really know as a result of ‘refiguring?’ Was it simply an average? Or is the implication more fundamental and having to do with the two arithmetical operations adding and subtracting as well as their two sub-alternate operations of multiplying and dividing? In order to get at the answer to that question, let’s go back to his walks around the yard.
Thousands of inmates walking the circuit of the yard for decades must have worn it into a deep trench. It is that beaten path on the yard which shapes their thoughts as the banks of a river give shape to a meandering stream of water. And like the banks of a stream of water it directs the flow of their thinking in relation to their mindscapes. As one walks that beaten path one’s thoughts and conversations pour forth and are molded by it as liquid poured into a mold. Therein some thoughts become heavy and sink while others become lighter and levitate. Such thoughts thus freed from the weight of stress fly free of gravity and then focused downward can see the never ending circle of the yard and the utter futility of those moving around and around it. Naturally one so freed wants to know the circumference of the circle that held his body and mind and which like a boa constrictor with ever tightening grip around its victim slows the pulse of its victim until the victim dies.
The circumference of a circle, its area, its diameter, and Pi; all are needed to calculate. Those are all characteristics of the yard that one needs to know if one is to escape the never ending route and the deepening trench cut into the circuit of the yard which ties everyone together and which will eventually bury everyone on it. Along with those figures are methods in the form of equations which are necessary to get precise answers as to why one is going in a circle.
Observing the circular path of the yard Malcolm X must have imagined its composition. He must have figured out that by use of kite string and a mental compass he could by extending it from one point on the circle to its opposite side draw with a compass four intersecting curves and that by reversing the method he could do the same to the lateral sides of the circle thus drawing four other intersecting curves. And that then he could precisely connect the four intersecting points with straight lines through to the middle of the circle; that would give him the precise center of the circle. He would have then seen that the radius = ½ D or the diameter divided by 2.
Assuming the yard is a circle, the circumference of the yard is a necessary figure to know. A perfect circle divided by two intersecting lines at its center and creating four quadrants would have been obvious once he imagined the diameter. But how could he measure the length of the diameter and circumference of the yard? Perhaps he would have measured in feet since he was walking. There are 5,280 feet in a mile. Assume the yard circuit is a mile. So, the length of the circumference of the yard equals 5,280 feet. After that he would have needed the diameter. Let’s say that Malcolm took a short cut by walking across the circuit of the yard instead of around it. His walk would have described its diameter. Let’s say that he figured the number of feet as he walked and concluded that it was 1,680.62 feet. He now had two important figures: the circumference of a circle at 5,280 feet and the diameter at 1,680.62 feet. Malcolm was now ready to figure something very big. He was about to discover Pi.
First he would have wanted to figure out what percent of the circumference of a circle the diameter is. It would have been a fraction of the circumference: 1680.62/5280 or approximately 32%. So, the decimal .3182 of any circumference is equivalent to its diameter. Next, he would have noted that the ratio of the circumference of 5,280 feet to the diameter of 1680.62 equals 3.1416. Malcolm had found Pi: 3.1416. He would have simply divided the circumference of a circle by the diameter. Pi is constant. It is always the quotient of the circumference divided by the diameter expressed as a percent of the circumference.
In Egypt it was first calculated as the ratio of 256:81. Pi is the mathematical constant which opens the door to figuring out the circumference and area of any circle. It would help Malcolm understand his inner relation to all things. The core of the earth, planets, sun, other stars, the cells in his body and the magnetic fields which cut through their centers all spoke to him of his inner alignment with the universe. Do you see the patterns? Malcolm couldn’t and you will not break free from the space which confines your body without first knowing the measurement of the space which occupies you. Yes, ‘the space which occupies you’ because the space which imprisons your thinking is proportional to the space which confines your body. Incarceration is a state of mind. Malcolm X had crossed the yard; he had gotten off the beaten path. He smiled. The sky was clear. Malcolm could now see forever.