MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Q.E.D. (1984)
Bruce Stanley Burdick
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Contributed by anonymous

The "Q.E.D." from the title of this short story published in Analog (volume 104 #12, December 1984, pp. 96-112) is the latin expression "quod erat demonstratum" that is meant to conclude a proof and not the "quantum electrodynamics" of physics. In this story, a representative of the human race saves us from domination by an alien species by proving to them (through reference to classical geometry) that we are sentient. (He moreover goes on to similarly prove that is we who should dominate them!)

Contributed by Bruce Burdick

I didn't intend the story to say that the humans should dominate the aliens. I merely meant to tackle the problem of what a human might use as leverage when faced with a race with vastly greater understanding of physics. But if that's what readers see in the story, I guess I have to keep in mind that according to the deconstructionists, there is no such thing as the author's intent!

Thanks for posting this site, and for including me with the likes of Borges, Aldiss, etc.

Yes, I have now finally read this story and I must concur with the author: there is nothing about humans dominating the aliens as I read it either. This was something that whoever first wrote to me about the story saw in it from their own interpretation. The human desire to dominate, which in the story is attributed to an "expansionist" religion that drives people to colonize new planets, is one of the things the protagonist of the story opposes. In fact, the nice pacifist viewpoint is something I liked. In the end, it is those who are not interested in dominating anyone (on both sides) who are the winners and create a collaborative community.

But, the most interesting thing about the story, of course, is the mathematics! Unfortunately, I cannot really discuss it without giving away the ending. So, if you have any intention of reading the story (and think you stand a chance of finding it...which is not that easy), then you should stop reading now.

Spoiler Warning: From this point on, I will give away important details that will make it harder for you to read the story for enjoyment later.

The aliens, like so many human cultures, call themselves "people" and think that their rules of behavior only apply to other "people". At first, they think the humans who have come to their planet are people, too. But, at some point they decide that they were mistaken and this threatens the existence of the humans...most specifically it threatens the life of the human alienologist who is our protagonist. To prove that he (and his colleagues) deserve the rights of "people", he must convince the aliens that he can do something they cannot. He knows that they are not interested in buildings or technology..that's just not the way they are. So, he tries to stump them with mathematics and logic. He tries Russell's paradox, Gödel's theorem, the Four Color Theorem (redescribed in terms of grass growing so that the aliens will appreciate it) and relativity...but none of these prove any challenge for the wise alien who sees all of this as rather simple. But then, it turns out that the human is able to impress them with Euclidean geometry (in particular, a theorem about the intersection of angle bisectors in a triangle). This is ironic, of course, because it is an example of relatively elementary mathematics to us.

(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 Q.E.D.
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Flight of the Dragonfly (aka Rocheworld) by Robert L. Forward
  2. Pop Quiz by Alex Kasman
  3. Conversations on Mathematics with a Visitor from Outer Space by David Ruelle
  4. Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang
  5. The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks
  6. In the River by Justin Stanchfield
  7. Dark Integers by Greg Egan
  8. Factoring Humanity by Robert J. Sawyer
  9. Oracle by Greg Egan
  10. Diaspora by Greg Egan
Ratings for Q.E.D.:
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:
4/5 (1 votes)
..
Literary Quality:
3/5 (1 votes)
..

Categories:
GenreScience Fiction,
MotifAliens, Proving Theorems, Religion, Gödel,
TopicGeometry/Topology/Trigonometry, Logic/Set Theory,
MediumShort Stories,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)