“Take this longing from my tongue…”

I learned, quite by accident, that the human tongue is a muscular hydrostat.  A muscular hydrostat is a biological structure (consisting primarily of muscles with no skeletal support structure) in animals used to manipulate objects or for locomotion of its host.  Other muscular hydrostats include an elephant’s trunk and the tentacles of an octopus.

This accidental education came about as a result of stumbling across an article describing a mathematical model of the human tongue.  The summary of the article, which follows, sparked my interest:

A mathematical model of the human tongue, developed as part of a  larger project to understand its movement, use in speech, and control, is described.  The model has the mathematical form of an incompressible solid with a nonlinear,  partially controllable, stress/strain relationship. The rationale for such a model, an  analytic solution for a simplified version of the model, and indications of future work  are included.

The article’s authors assert that the first attempt to create a mathematical model of the tongue was described in J.S. Perkell’s 1969 work, Physiology of speech production: results and implications of a  quantitative cineradiographic study, published by the MIT Press.

As I waded deeper and deeper into the articles that preceded and followed the one that sparked my interest, I became frustrated that I simply could not understand much of what was being presented because it was presented in the form of mathematical formulae. I never advanced beyond an incomplete and very poor understanding of basic algebra (long since lost); understanding the articles requires a much more advanced mastery of mathematics.

Looking back on my education, or lack thereof, in all things mathematical, I curse my so-called teachers and myself for failing to uncover the spark in me that would have enabled me to appreciate and enjoy and seek out greater knowledge of mathematics so that I could develop a greater understanding of the world in which I live.

As to the title of this post…it is from Leonard Cohen’s tune, Take this Longing, the specific verse of which is:

Oh take this longing from my tongue
Whatever useless things these hands have done
Let me see your beauty broken down
Like you would do for one you love

I wonder if my appreciation for words and music and the subtleties of language are simply incompatible with a facility for math and science. I doubt it. I was just lazy and uneducated as a child, resulting in a lazy and uneducated adult.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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