MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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On the Occasion Of Your Graduation (2011)
Robert Dawson
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A thesis advisor entrusts his Ph.D. student with the responsibility of determining what to do with his discovery that mathematics contains inconsistencies.

This is one of several works of fiction that explore consequences of Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems. This one, like Ted Chiang's Division by Zero, is pretty sophisticated in terms of the mathematics behind it. For instance, it attempts to explain why the contradiction in mathematics has not resulted in obvious problems before:

(quoted from On the Occasion Of Your Graduation)

It was impossible to check directly; with eight levels of Gödel encoding involved, the inconsistent statement in question, expanded out in terms of elementary operations, would have been more than ten to the trillionth characters long! Indeed, I have since discovered a heuristic argument that suggests that without such an encoding trick, any sequence of deductions less than about ten thousand pages long should be consistent. Nobody’s checkbook will fail to balance.

Mathematically, therefore, it is superior to most other works of fiction that tend to get Gödel anywhere from a little confused to completely wrong.

From a literary standpoint, however, not much happens in this story. As it takes the form of a letter from the advisor to his recently graduated student, those two characters do get "fleshed out" a little bit. But, Division by Zero addresses the same idea in a much more carefully crafted and emotionally potent story.

This story appeared in the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics (Volume 1 Issue 2) July 2011.

More information about this work can be found at scholarship.claremont.edu.
(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to On the Occasion Of Your Graduation
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Not a Chance by Peter Haff
  2. Euclid Alone by William F. Orr
  3. Gödel's Doom by George Zebrowski
  4. Lucy and David and the God Equation by Alan McKenzie
  5. The Goddess of Small Victories [La déesse des petites victoire] by Yannick Grannec
  6. Damned Souls and Statistics by Robert Dawson
  7. Murder on the Einstein Express by Harun Šiljak
  8. The Shackles of Conviction by James R. Meyer
  9. Final Exam by Robert Dawson
  10. A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines by Janna Levin
Ratings for On the Occasion Of Your Graduation:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
5/5 (1 votes)
.
Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)
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Categories:
Genre
MotifAcademia, Proving Theorems,
TopicLogic/Set Theory,
MediumShort Stories, Available Free Online,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)