MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Incompleteness (2004)
Apostolos Doxiadis
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
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A play by the author of Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture on the last, sad days in the life of Kurt Gödel. After a "workshop production" in Athens, Greece (June 24-28, 2003) the show's official debut is set for May 24, 2004 (a rehearsed reading) at the Aurora Theatre Company in Berkeley, CA.

In an email, Doxiadis had this to say about its mathematical content:

Contributed by Apostolos Doxiadis

Well, although it's neither directly biographical (practically nil is known of G's last days, except that he didn't eat thinking the hospital staff wanted to poison him) neither mathematical in the way that PETROS is, the play is very much about the Incompleteness Theorem. Christos Papadimitriou actually gives it in his paper as a good example of the 'illustration mode' of Math Fi, i.e. the mode whereby the work illustrates the math, rather than presenting it. I think he is right, in the sense that this is no biopic, my intention was to write something on the philosophical significance of the IT. Both Christos and Greg Chaitin, who work on the field from the side of computer science seem to think I've done the job, but you'll form your own opinion when you see it. Thus, yes, although the play does not contain direct mathematical dialogue in the final version (a previous one also featured David Hilbert as lecturer/storyteller but he's been cut out, poor sod) it is VERY mathematical, in fact more so in essence than PETROS

A lecture that Doxiadis gave on the writing of this play is available in PDF form from his Website at this link. It contains some very interesting comments (including a review of a variety of works of mathematical fiction and how he wants this play to compare:

Contributed by Apostolos Doxiadis in "Writing Incompleteness"

I want to take a bow to works like Denis Guedj’s The Parrot’s Theorem, with its attempt to guide the reader through a mathematical jungle, Darren Aronosky’s film Pi, which in its own crazy way finds interesting analogues for the phenomena of chaos it is purportedly talking about, Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen and Tom Stoppard’s Hapgood or Arcadia, which find effective ways to blend theoretical with dramatic concerns, around major stories of physics and mathematics. But I have no good feeling for David Auburn’s play Proof. It is a nice enough work, but how does a mathematician get into it -- its heroes could be chemists or physicists or biologists or literary historians, for all I know, the ‘great breakthrough’ at the nucleus of the plot could be any x discovery in any y science. And although I rather enjoyed the film A Beautiful Mind, I think that although it told us rather interesting things about madness, it said absolutely nothing about John Nash’s mathematics. ‘And why should it,’ you may ask. Well, to me, obviously, because John Nash was a great mathematician. We had sexploitation. Now we also have math-ploitation.

In fact, to me the two works just mentioned functioned as cautionary tale, as I worked on Incompleteness, as models of what to avoid. For the more I worked on it, the more I realized that if a play about Kurt Gödel was to justify itself, and not be just about madness, anorexia, or the hospital system, then the mathematics, the Theorem of Incompleteness itself, had to play a central role in it. Putting Kurt Gödel last days on the stage and treating him as nothing but a weird psychiatric case (after all, not all old men who become paranoid about food in their last years are geniuses) was to me a task not worth the man it was supposed to serve. I did not want to do another A Beautiful Mind – by the way, I am here referring to the film and not the book, which presents a very well-rounded picture of John Nash’s life and troubles.

There are many things Doxiadis says in this essay which I think are important, true, interesting and beautiful. Perhaps someday I will add comments on those as well. However, at the moment I wish only to complain about his tendency to repeat the claim that he started either a recent trend, or even the entire field of mathematical fiction. (In this essay, he quotes others as calling his 1992 novel Uncle Petros... "the first novel of mathematical fiction"!) This claim is not at all supported by the facts. Take a look, for instance, at the chronological list of works of mathematical fiction on this site.

More information about this work can be found at www.apostolosdoxiadis.com.
(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 Incompleteness
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis / Christos Papadimitriou
  2. Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture by Apostolos Doxiadis
  3. Pythagorean Crimes by Tefcros Michaelides
  4. PopCo by Scarlett Thomas
  5. The Goddess of Small Victories [La déesse des petites victoire] by Yannick Grannec
  6. The Einstein Enigma by José Rodrigues Dos Santos
  7. A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines by Janna Levin
  8. Fermat's Room (La Habitacion de Fermat) by Luis Piedrahita / Rodrigo Sopeña
  9. The Logic Pool by Stephen Baxter
  10. Continuums by Robert Carr
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Categories:
Genre
MotifInsanity, Real Mathematicians, Gödel,
TopicLogic/Set Theory,
MediumPlays,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)