Published on August 17, 2018


Living Through a Palindromic Period

Keep calm and don’t get overly concerned, but we are in the last couple of days of a Palindromic Period!

If the date is expressed numerically by the minimum number of characters necessary to denote the month-day-year (today is 8-17-18), then the date forms a palindrome: it reads the same backward and forwards.

And furthermore, during the second decade of every century—and not during any other time—this happens on an annual basis. So we have already experienced these palindromic periods every year since 2011, with no impact whatsoever on anything that really matters.  This year it will end on 8-19-18, and then it will be back again next year on 9-11-19 for another 10 days. Forewarned is forearmed.

Palindromes are a fascinating phenomenon that can express themselves in both numbers and letters. A number like 12345678987654321 is a palindrome. Wow is a palindrome. So is Civic. Level. Kayak. Mom. Noon. Racecar.

If your name is Anna or Bob, it’s a palindrome (and you no doubt know this very well).

A palindrome is said to record the words of Napoleon is quite famous: “Able was I ere I saw Elba.” So is the description of President Teddy Roosevelt crowning achievement: A man, a plan, a canal—Panama!

The first man’s first words might have been, “Madam, I’m Adam. ” I’m quite fond of this one: So many dynamos!

While this observation has no meaning or impact on anything that really matters, it is an example of how we seek patterns, symmetry, economy, and meaningful patterns in our lives. (Nature is filled with them.)

While we notice this abstract phenomenon, it doesn’t really matter much. What matters is that we notice at all. We notice what is going on around us. We look for patterns, seeking the symmetrical that may help us as we pick our way through the world. Patterns of value, symmetry, economy, and meaning are the building blocks of human industry. As children, we start to see patterns and organize our toys into groups that seem similar or dissimilar. We start to understand fast and slow and then fast again. We notice how our hands are mirror images of each other—or that we have an ear in the same place on either side of our head. We can see that our toes go from little to big and then to little again.

Learning means seeing relationships and symmetry. In music, the scales go up and then down again. We begin to see relationships between numbers. We notice that a rope swung one way soon swings back the other way. We notice that temperatures go up and then go down. That life has order, that nature is not random, that things behave according to principles. That gravity is very powerful, and that water, while seemingly weak, can carry great energy and power.

So while palindromes don’t really matter, the humans who can see them and imagine them matter quite a lot. When we pay attention, we learn. We experience. We grow. We get better at what we are doing, and we apply what we learn to new situations, new challenges, and new areas worthy of our curiosity, inquiry, and attention.

Tomorrow will be 8.18.18. Now there’s a great numerical palindrome. What is waiting to be learned on 8.18.18? So many dynamos!

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