Age of information
Greek & Latin
Mind & Brain
Science & Art
☞ A Box Of Stories
Inside a mathematical proof lies literature. Some of the greatest mathematicians were also some of classical history’s most poetic storytellers
“Like novelists, mathematicians are creative authors. With diagrams, symbolism, metaphor, double entendre and elements of surprise, a good proof reads like a good story. (…) [Reviel] Netz reveals the stunning stylistic similarities between Hellenistic poetry and mathematical texts from the same era. (…) In the very layout, in the use of a particular formulaic language, in the structuring of the text (…) its success or failure depends entirely on features residing in the text itself. It is really an activity very powerfully concentrated around the manipulation of written documents, more perhaps than anywhere else in science, and comparable, then, to modern poetry. (…)
Metaphor is fairly standard in mathematics. Mathematics can only become truly interesting and original when it involves the operation of seeing something as something else – a pair of similarly looking triangles, say, as a site for an abstract proportion; a diagonal crossing through the set of all real numbers.” “
☞ Oulipo - a group of writers interested in exploring the application of mathematical structures, patterns and algorithms to writing
George Bernard Shaw famously said, “If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange those ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”
Similarly, incorporeal works of art (poems, short stories etc.) have the potential to affect millions since unlike apples, they are unencumbered by the problem of scarcity (Lewis Hyde). The value of translation is that it unleashes from latency ideas and emotions to a vast sea of others who do not have access to the language in which these ideas and emotions reside.
“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” “
“What makes humans unique, perhaps more than anything else, is that we are a linguistically adept story-telling species. That is why so many different forms of mythology have captivated our cultural imaginations since the dawn of recorded history. We are a linguistically adept story-telling species because telling stories is one of the chief ways we give shape to our experience and thus ultimately direct our behavior. As Terrence Deacon puts it, “We tell stories about our real experiences and invent stories about imagined ones, and we even make use of these stories to organize our lives. In a real sense, we live our lives in this shared virtual world
“The theory of books is noble. The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again. It came into him life; it went out from him truth. It came to him short-lived actions; it went out from him immortal thoughts. It came to him business; it went from him poetry. It can stand, and it can go. It now endures, it now flies, it now inspires. Precisely in proportion to the depth of mind from which it issued, so high does it soar, so long does it sing.
Or, I might say, it depends on how far the process has gone, of transmuting life into truth. In proportion to the completeness of the distillation, so will the purity and imperishableness of the product be. But none is quite perfect. As no air-pump can by any means make a perfect vacuum, so neither can any artist entirely exclude the conventional, the local, the perishable from his book, or write a book of pure thought, that shall be as efficient, in all respects, to a remote posterity, as to contemporaries, or rather to the second age. Each age, it is found, must write its own books; or rather, each generation for the succeeding. The books of an older period will not fit this.
Yet hence arises a great mischief. The sacredness which attaches to the act of creation, the act of thought, is transferred to the record. The poet chanting was felt to be a divine man: henceforth the chant is divine also. The writer was a just and wise spirit: henceforward it is settled the book is perfect; as love of the hero corrupts into worship of his statue. Instantly the book becomes noxious: the guide is a tyrant. The sluggish and perverted minds of the multitude, slow to open to the incursions of Reason, having once so opened, having once received this book, stands upon it, and makes an outcry if it is disparaged. Colleges are built on it. Books are written on it by thinkers, not by Man Thinking; by men of talent, that is, who start wrong, who set out from accepted dogmas, not from their own sight of principles. Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given; forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote these books.
Instead of Man Thinking, we have the bookworm. Hence the book-learned class, who value books, as such; not as related to nature and the human constitution, but as making a sort of Third Estate with the world and the soul. Hence the restorers of readings, the emendators, the bibliomaniacs of all degrees.
Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst. What is the right use? What is the one end which all means go to effect? They are for nothing but to inspire. I had better never see a book than to be warped by its attraction clean out of my own orbit, and made a satellite instead of a system. The one thing in the world, of value, is the active soul. This every man is entitled to; this every man contains within him, although in almost all men obstructed, and as yet unborn. The soul active sees absolute truth and utters truth, or creates. In this action it is genius; not the privilege of here and there a favorite, but the sound estate of every man. In its essence it is progressive. The book, the college, the school of art, the institution of any kind, stop with some past utterance of genius. This is good, say they, – let us hold by this. They pin me down. They look backward and not forward. But genius looks forward: the eyes of man are set in his forehead, not in his hindhead: man hopes: genius creates.” “
"… it’s better for you to restrain your impatience and wait to open the book at home. Now. Yes, you are in your room, calm; you open the book to page one, no, to the last page, first you want to see how long it is. It’s not too long, fortunately. Long novels written today are perhaps a contradiction: the dimension of time has been shattered; we cannot love or think except in fragments of time each of which goes off along its own trajectory and immediately disappears. We can rediscover the continuity of time only in the novels of that period when time no longer seemed stopped and did not yet seem to have exploded, a period that lasted no more than a hundred years.
You turn the book over in your hands…”