Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Niceness of the Spiral Staircase

This is just a staircase in a shop, probably in Grafton Street.  It may even be from the recently demised HMV store. I collect these for collage purposes but occasionally they offer a nice geometry. I use the word "nice" as mathematicians do when they want to describe something elegant, useful or even easy to work with. According to Abhijit Mehta, "nice" describes a way in which a mathematical function feels. In this photograph I feel I know the way the lines are moving and I know I can work with this picture to produce something ... well, nice! The word nice was one that was subject to amelioration - it was upgraded from the Middle English meaning of foolish or absurd. Delving back to 3500BC it could have its origins in the Proto Indo-European "skei", meaning split or divided. This moved through Latin to its current form. The spiral itself is universal in all cultures and describes a single movement which is both in equilibrium and disequilibrium. Maybe you can feel that when ascending a spiral staircase - it's not for nothing that the spiral became a motif of animated films in portraying an altered state such as dizziness or drunkenness. To walk on a spiral staircase in a dream involves something of a journey. It does have a predetermined start and finish, but how does it feel to be on that path? Many ancient societies believed that was the journey of the soul - unknown but preordained.