And by circles we mean….

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Peau_de_chagrin_squiggleThere was an interesting article in ScienceNOW last week about how a study has shown that people walk in circles if they are blindfolded and set loose in a field (unless it’s sunny out; then they stay in a straight line).  The article referred to various novels and movies, indicating that as a plot devise walking in circles isn’t unrealistic.

As I read it, I kept thinking, “Circles?  Really?  But wouldn’t maintaining constant curvature be about as remarkable as walking in a straight line?”  Yet no mention was made of this, and when I looked at the accompanying picture it turns out that circle was used in a more literary sense:  the circles were really just closed loops occurring within the path.  And although that too is interesting because I’d be freaked out by crossing my own path again, my mathematician self was sorry that they weren’t actually circles.

This squiggle picture actually has a lofty pedigree:  it appeared on page 1 of La Peau de Chagrin by Honore de Balzac in 1901.

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