We each have three lives: the untouchable past, where our mistakes are stored; the immeasurable present, where we make them; and the impenetrable future, where they group and marshal. The present is the bottleneck: and the only reason most human pasts are not more untidy than they are is that we can only manage one mistake at a time. That bottleneck is the pinch in the hourglass, the restrictor which means events must pass us by one single grain at a time. We could take this as an opportunity to see things clearly, but it seems we’d rather not — most of us prefer to speculate hopelessly in the unfathomable scale of the future, or flounder hopelessly in the massive scale of the past. It’s an unfortunate distraction because, as we often tell each other, once the moment has passed we don’t get it back.
What this means is that those who can see the present clearly, and who do view the past and the future with the precision of good perspective, have a tremendous advantage over everybody else. They have a different relationship with fortune than the usual fumbling that the rest of us can muster. They can slip through the gaps between events that others do not even notice. They can make coins disappear. The mathemagician, having an unobstructed view of numberwork and time and space, is such an individual.
The mathemagician is rolling a riddle around inside his mind, as he has a tendency to do at important times like this.