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A Box Of Stories
Age of information
Greek & Latin
Mind & Brain
Science & Art
“When I was a young man I was always hunting for new metaphors. Then I found out that really good metaphors are always the same. I mean you compare time to a road, death to sleeping, life to dreaming, and those are the great metaphors in literature because they correspond to something essential. If you invent metaphors, they are apt to be surprising during the fraction of a second, but they strike no deep emotion whatever. If you think of life as a dream, that is a thought, a thought that is real, or at least that most men are bound to have, no? “What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.”
I think that’s better than the idea of shocking people, than finding connections between things that have never been connected before, because there is no real connection, so the whole thing is a kind of juggling.”
a durable fire
In the mind ever burning;
Never sick, never old, never dead,
From itself never turning.
— From “Pilgrim to Pilgrim,” by Sir Walter Ralegh
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
“Poetry and science have more in common than revealing secrets. Both depend on metaphor, which is as crucial to scientific discovery as it is to lyric. A new metaphor is a new mapping of the world. Even maths uses metaphor; and this is where more condensed forms of poetry join in. John Donne, living through exciting new scientific discoveries, relished the door-opening powers of science. “A mathematical point is the most indivisible and unique thing which art can present,” he said. His lyric uses science as image rather than exposition. (…)
Scientia means “knowledge:” science, it seems to me, is not about facts; it is about thinking about facts. Equally, poetry might or might not be driven by feeling but what it is “about” is relationships – between word and sound, word and thing, word and thought, sound and meaning, words and other words. So is science. Darwin wondered constantly about the relationships of organic forms – in earth, in stone, in what happens between red clover and bumble bees, orchid and moth.
The deepest thing science and poetry share, perhaps, is the way they can tolerate uncertainty. They have a modesty in common: they do not have to say they’re right. True, perhaps. Or just truer. “A scientist should be the first to say he doesn’t know,” a tiger biologist told me when I asked some detail of tiger behaviour. “A scientist goes forward towards truth but never gets there.”
Which is roughly what Donne said too. “On a huge hill, / Cragged, and steep, Truth stands, and he that will. / Reach her, about must, and about must go.”
We are neural beings, (…) our brains take their input from the rest of our bodies. What our bodies are like and how they function in the world thus structures the very concepts we can use to think. We cannot think just anything – only what our embodied brains permit. (…)
The mind is inherently embodied. Thought is mostly unconscious. Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical.”
“Maths and music make claims to be universal languages of sorts. Science’s base metaphors are increasingly mathematical - building conceptual models from billiard balls is a thing of the past. Some theorists (for example Wimsatt) consider metaphor central to poetry. Colin Turbayne  thinks that that science is metaphor-laden too, the metaphors dead. Waismann [quoted in 2] argues that scientific concepts are only closed in specific contexts and that they are not different in kind to the metaphors of poetry. (…)
Quantum Theory - In Quantum Theory, probabilities can be calculated but only when an observation is made can any certainty be established. Observation is said to ‘collapse the probability function.’ This has been used for an analogy to the way that a text is interpreted (dis-ambiguated) by the act of reading . (…)
Relativity - Connections are made between Einstein’s Special Relativity and analytic cubism. Awareness of the equal importance of world viewpoints, the impossibility of absolute motion and time perhaps permeated via the Zeitgeist to artists; the link came from no deep mutual understanding.
Gödel - Gödel’s findings have helped soften artists’ views on science and has removed an aim of classical science. They have only made maths more obviously like the other sciences. The gap between science and the arts hasn’t thereby been reduced.
Geometry - Mondrian is heavily geometric and minimalist. This doesn’t make him more appealing to mathematicians. Equally, the 4-colour problem in maths isn’t appealing to artists.”
“Plato likened our view of the world to that of an ancient forebear watching shadows meander across a dimly lit cave wall. He imagined our perceptions to be but a faint inkling of a far richer reality that flickers beyond reach.
Two millennia later, Plato’s cave may be more than a metaphor. To turn his suggestion on its head, reality—not its mere shadow—may take place on a distant boundary surface, while everything we witness in the three common spatial dimensions is a projection of that faraway unfolding. Reality, that is, may be akin to a hologram. Or, really, a holographic movie.”
“I think that metaphor really is a key to explaining thought and language. The human mind comes equipped with an ability to penetrate the cladding of sensory appearance and discern the abstract construction underneath - not always on demand, and not infallibly, but often enough and insightfully enough to shape the human condition.
Our powers of analogy allow us to apply ancient neural structures to newfound subject matter, to discover hidden laws and systems in nature, and not least, to amplify the expressive power of language itself.”