canine mathematics

I don’t need to justify myself. My mathematics is absolute. That’s why it’s called Pure Mathematics. It does what it says on the tin…”

by jonathan pinnock

The dog stared at me with what seemed to be disgust.

“Look at the state of you,” it said.

“I know,” I replied, contrite. After seven or eight pints of lager, there’s nothing much unusual about a talking dog.

I say seven or eight pints, but drinking is subject to some kind of pseudo-Heisenberg principle, where the ability to measure the quantity consumed is inversely proportional to that quantity. If I’d been remotely sober, I could have probably put together some kind of formal equation, but after the aforementioned seven-or-eight-plus-or-minus-delta pints, it was a hopeless task, and I gave up after a few desultory attempts. This was before I met the dog.

I was sitting on a park bench staring down at the pool of vomit between my feet. The shape of the pool was irregular, and I was considering the possibilities of complex integration around the curve of its perimeter when a further wave of reverse peristalsis forced its way out and distorted it.

The dog was still watching me, suspiciously.

“Do you realise what you’re doing to the olfactory gradients around here?” it said, cocking its head on one side. “How am I going to find my way past here for the next few days when there’s that whiff throwing me off course?”

“Sorry,” I mumbled. The dog continued to stare at me. It was a golden retriever. I’ve had a few encounters with golden retrievers on my way home from drinking in my time, although that isn’t say that I haven’t met my fair share of spaniels, poodles and labradors. There’s no real pattern to it, apart from the fact that they tend to talk to me in this tediously moralistic and higher-than-thou tone of voice. I am beginning to loath dogs.

“How’s the work going, anyway?” it said.

“It’s fine. Or, at least, my funding’s been renewed for next year, at least.”


“Yup. Now, look, I hope you don’t mind, but I’d rather you didn’t keep talking to me like this. People may be watching.”

“I could help you.”

“I doubt it.”

“You reckon? See that vomit of yours? Here’s a rough equation for its perimeter.” It scrawled a few vague lines on the pavement with its paw.

“Ah,” I said.

“Well, what do you think?”

“It’s just a load of scratches.”

The dog rolled its eyes. “Well, you might think that, but I assure you that it’s anything but.” It called out to a passing mongrel, who came over and nodded furiously, before declaring, “A few inaccuracies in the higher level terms, but fundamentally sound.” Then it trotted off into the night.

“You see?” said the retriever, making a few minor adjustments, “You’re just not understanding the terminology.”

“Can’t you write a proper equation instead?”

“A proper equation? You’re joking. You humans make things far too complicated. I wouldn’t have the time or the patience. No, if you want to understand, you’ll need to learn how to do canine maths.”

“You’re taking the piss, aren’t you?” I said, exasperated.

“Certainly not. Are you?” it countered.

“I don’t need to justify myself. My mathematics is absolute. That’s why it’s called Pure Mathematics. It does what it says on the tin.”

“There are no absolutes,” said the dog. “Whatever fundamental principles you derive, they’ll simply reflect the way your brain is made. The same with ours, except that we learnt long ago to express our mathematics in a universal language.”

“I don’t believe this.”

“I’ll prove it,” said the dog, waving a paw at a ginger tom who was up a nearby tree. The cat leapt down and came over warily, keeping its distance.

“What do you think?” said the retriever to the cat. It sat staring at the scratches on the pavement for a minute or two, deep in thought.

“Well,” it said eventually, in a surprisingly deep voice, “It’s fundamentally sound, but you need to use a more accurate multiple of pi.” Then it turned and shot up the tree again.

“See?” said the dog.


In my office, I am staring at a sheet of paper covered in scratches. It still doesn’t make any sense to me. I lied to the dog: my funding application is still awaiting approval. If I could just come up with some new insights into complex integration, I might just swing it. But I didn’t get the dog’s address, and in any case I have a horrible feeling that he may have been lying to me as well.

Originally published:
Issue Fifty-Two
April 2008
(illustration: dee sunshine)

Jonathan Pinnock was born in Bedfordshire, England, and – despite having so far visited over forty other countries – has failed to relocate any further away than the next-door county of Hertfordshire. He is married with two children and a 1961 Ami Continental jukebox. He does not currently own a dog, but, curiously, he does have a degree in Mathematics.

Comments are closed.