a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|Each episode of this Japanese TV series follows the stories of some patrons of a Tokyo diner that is only open from midnight to 7AM. "Omelette Rice" is a love story between two regulars who meet there one rainy night: a physicist who has lost his umbrella and Yoona who is working at a night club to earn money to send back to her parents in Korea. (I was not sure whether she was a waitress, a dancer, or a prostitute, but I assume we are supposed to reach some conclusions from the facts that she works under a pseudonym at the night club and that she told her parents she is working as a translator.)
Even though it was my sister who suggested that I add it, I really was tempted not to include this in the database. After all, the character of Amamyia is clearly referred to as a physicist, not a mathematician. I generally try to differentiate between those for the sake of this website: the theme is mathematical fiction not science fiction. However, the one mathematical scene in the episode is not only mathematically interesting but also gives me a chance to discuss an impact that mathematical fiction has had on the public perception of mathematicians.
When Yoona is kindly offering Amamyia her umbrella, he has an epiphany and realizes something important about the physics problem that had been troubling him in the diner. Text appearing on the screen informs us that he's thinking about the potential function for the Higgs Field (see figure) which opens upwards like an upside-down umbrella. He runs into a police station and demands that the officer on duty give him pens so that he can write on the window.
One thing to observe about this scene is the stereotype of the physicist. Worrying that he will have no way to get the equations he has written on the window home at one point, he stops writing, but Yoona shows him that she can take a picture of it on her smartphone. He apparently has never seen a smartphone before, but he returns to his calculations on the window as Yoona takes a selfie of herself and the police officer. If he was a mathematician, I might say more about that here, but...
Another more mathematical point is that the cute connection between the umbrella and the Higgs potential is completely wrongheaded. In fact, the thing that is geometrically important about the Higgs potential is that it is not shaped like an upside-down umbrella. Instead, it is shaped more like a hat with a high point in the middle and a minimum (representing "the ground state") along a circle around it.
But, mostly what I want to comment about is the way he insists that me must write on the window. Ever since Russell Crowe portrayed John Nash writing formulas on his Princeton dorm room window in A Beautiful Mind, equations written on glass has become a standard image in TV and cinema. (For example, see NUMB3RS, The Accountant, etc.)
I believe some people seeing this mistakenly believe that real mathematicians (and physicists and accountants) like to do their computations on glass walls or windows. But, that is not true! There are plenty of reasons not to do that. Depending on what is on the other side of the glass, it can be hard to read what you have written. There is, of course, the danger of breaking the glass. And, as Amamyia finds, you need some way to record what you've written. (Which brings up the question of why he insisted on writing on the window in the first place...why not just ask for paper and a pen?)
In situations where there is not an audience, people prefer doing their calculations on chalk boards, paper, and dry erase boards. It is only for its visual appeal that so many on-screen geniuses end up writing their formulas on glass. The director probably assumes that we are more interested in seeing the actor's face than the equations themselves.
And, this is not only true in the realm of fiction. Recently the College of Charleston's marketing division contacted me about taking a promotional photo of three students who did a research project with me (on quaternion-valued solitons, if you must know). They did not ask us about how or where it should be staged. They just told us to show up at a certain place at a certain time. And, to my surprise, they brought along a big piece of plexiglass which they hung using duct tape. The resulting picture of me and the students on the other side of the formulas from the camera really does look nice, but please remember that this is not how we really worked. If I suddenly found myself in need of a place to do some emergency computations, I would not write on a police station window.
BTW The episode is called "Omelette Rice" because Yoona learns from the chef to prepare the physicist's favorite meal, a "western style" dish called omurice that is made with ketchup and eaten with a spoon.
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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)