Do you ever have phrases just pop into your head, no idea what they mean or even if they are real phrases?
I was just sitting here, staring at my notepad, pen in hand, not writing. It is Thanksgiving, so something about being thankful seemed appropriate, but nothing was coming. There are a lot of different tricks I use to try to get the words to start flowing. Sometimes I use prompts. But often I try to clear my head and let opening lines, characters, situations, or some such suggest themselves to me, hoping one of them will strike a chord and lead me to something more. And sometimes the page stays blank.
A phrase popped into my head: asymptotic transversality. No joke. That phrase appeared, fully formed, in my mind. I had no idea what it meant or what it was doing there. So I followed it around a bit, see where it might take me. My first thought took me to science fiction. Perhaps it was some sort of measurement or phenomenon that a futuristic device could scan for. But that thought stopped there, refusing to go further.
So I tried again. This time, it was a completely nonsense phrase that a character used to try to impress people. Maybe it was even part of a pick-up line, to show how smart he was. That, however, seemed like a stretch, even for me. I began to think this was just one of those creative dead ends, and it was time to move on.
But I was just curious enough to search for the phrase online. Sure enough, it is a mathematical concept. Based on a few sentences on the first page of the search results, I couldn’t hope to explain it. Maybe if I did some research and studied for a bit, but my curiosity didn’t take me that far. It has been a long time since I last found myself in a math class, and I don’t think I’ve heard it before. But it seems strange to think I just happened to independently come up with a phrase that actually has some meaning in an academic discipline.
So as I sit here, this Thanksgiving, trying to come up with stories and thinking about obscure mathematical concepts I can’t remember ever coming across before, I am amazed at the mysterious workings of the human mind. I am thankful for it, on top of every other thing I have to be thankful for.
But seriously, how did that pop into my head?