Asymptotic Transversality

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?

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