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Alice and Mathematics

March 7, 2010 pm31 3:00 pm

In yesterday’s NY Times Melanie Bayley discusses some of the mathematical satire that Lewis Carroll created.

Tea party? T-party?  With three elements, but time missing? She also hits continuity, logic, algebraic systems, even topology.

Here’s two paragraphs:

In the mid-19th century, mathematics was rapidly blossoming into what it is today: a finely honed language for describing the conceptual relations between things. Dodgson found the radical new math illogical and lacking in intellectual rigor. In “Alice,” he attacked some of the new ideas as nonsense — using a technique familiar from Euclid’s proofs, reductio ad absurdum, where the validity of an idea is tested by taking its premises to their logical extreme.

Early in the story, for instance, Alice’s exchange with the Caterpillar parodies the first purely symbolic system of algebra, proposed in the mid-19th century by Augustus De Morgan, a London math professor. De Morgan had proposed a more modern approach to algebra, which held that any procedure was valid as long as it followed an internal logic. This allowed for results like the square root of a negative number, which even De Morgan himself called “unintelligible” and “absurd” (because all numbers when squared give positive results).

Click the link above for the rest.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 5, 2010 am31 4:45 am 4:45 am

    Unfortunately mathematics is now a language that many can’t understand.

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