WEEK SEVEN – Logarithms/Wealth of Nations

>> Logarithms

The Wealth of Nations <<

log-table2         wealth of nations

This week sees numbers come under the spotlight as we contrast two revolutions in mathematical thought; Scottish mathematician John Napier’s 17th century discovery of logarithms, the relationships between numbers, and how complex multiplications could be performed using simpler additions paved the way for modern mathematics, thermodynamics and ultimately the development of the computer. Later the same century during the Scottish Enlightenment, Kirkcaldy-born Adam Smith laid the foundations for economic capitalism with his book The Wealth of Nations. Both developments were a product of the great Scottish capacity for intellect and innovation, and ripples from both can still be observed in modern society. Whether their ultimate influence on the world they helped to create is benign or malign is a discussion which falls beyond the remit of Scotia Extremis


Great Powers : John Napier of Merchiston 
by Ruth Aylett

Nautilus shell spirals outwards,
sunflower seed-head spirals in;
nature’s patterning.

Marvellous Merchiston the man,
after twenty years making his tables,
ten million numbers long,
breaks the heavens wide
open, shortens their labour to
double astronomers’ lives.

The hawk spiralling to its prey
a hurricane’s brutal arms;
nature’s patterning.

Raising numbers to powers
for huge steps across
the solar system,
binding planets to sun.
Adding, subtracting powers,
taming numbers whose
magnitude in multiplication
mashes brains
into boggled jelly.

The nerves of the cornea,
a Catherine wheel spiral;
nature’s patterning.

Four days London to Edinburgh,
soil baked, horses panting
in the summer drought;
then they gaze, silent, for long minutes:
Briggs, Napier; Napier, Briggs;
your engine of wit or ingenuity.
Two years until Napier lays
his real bones down for good.

And so we master the false
infinity of grains of sand:
two numbers net up every molecule
from this beach to furthest galaxies:
ten times itself,
eighty times.

A Twenty Pound Note
by Niall Campbell

“Ultimately, [Adam Smith realised] wealth is not money – it is the amount of other people’s labour that we can command, or purchase”.         (Eamonn Butler, The Condensed Wealth of Nations)


So how am I to think of this red note –
the rough equivalent of a chef bought for
two hours – without the food or steaming kitchen –
just the clean movement of profession: cutting,
filleting, seasoning the air with air,
since nothing else, then bringing it to me;

or send him away, and make it forty minutes
of a tailor – with him pinning his pale samples
of daylight to my waist, chalking lines, without
the chalk, when measuring me – or send him away,
and make it just a lawyer for ten minutes,
pulling an absent book from an absent shelf,

then calling time; just don’t make it a planter
from a coffee farm, or fruit grove harvester:
gathering, yes – and sowing, yes – and lifting
their body on, all muscle and thumbed rib,
but for days and days and days – for me;
then, what, I tender this into their hand?




Niall Campbell 
is a poet originally from the Western Isles of Scotland. His first collection, Niall CampbellMoontide, was published by Bloodaxe in 2014 and was the winner of the Saltire First Book of the Year and the inaugural Edwin Morgan Poetry Award. First Nights, collecting poems from Moontide alongside new work, will be published in the U.S. in Autumn 2016 as part of The Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets.

ruth aylett


Ruth Aylett lives in Edinburgh where she teaches and researches university-level computing.  She was joint author of the collaborative online epic Granite University and performed with Sarah the Poetic Robot at the 2012 Edinburgh Free Fringe. She has been published by Envoi, Bloodaxe Books, Poetry Scotland, Red Squirrel Press, Doire Press and others. For more on her writing go here.

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One thought on “WEEK SEVEN – Logarithms/Wealth of Nations

  1. These are superb ‘gifts’. Have already started looking forward to the next one each time. A brilliant idea, well-executed and full of delights! Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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