a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Progress (2005)
Alex Kasman
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

The mathematics of ancient Egypt can look very strange to us today. For example, although they did not have many fractions, they did know about the number 2/3. Strangely, however, it took a page of computation for an ancient mathematician to work out that 2/3 times 3 was equal to 2! (For a quick overview of ancient Egyptian mathematics click here or read Gillings' great book "Mathematics in the Time of the Pharoahs".)

In this story, a young mathematician in the early part of the 20th century is asked to help an Egyptologist rederive the method of multiplication that they used. The young man is shocked by the inneffective method and gives the Egyptologist a lecture on "progress in mathematics", only to regret his words when he himself later encounters the same algorithm, now considered the height of cutting edge technology when it is incorporated into computer architecture.

The mathematical facts in the story, including the remarkable coincidence that computers today multiply using the method previously used by ancient Egyptians, are correct as far as I know. However, I know nothing about who may actually have been responsible for rediscovering the algorithm used in the ancient texts, and do not know whether anyone other than me has previously noted its similarities to the algorithm utilized by computers. If anyone can help to clarify either of these points, I would be most grateful!

Of course, I'd also appreciate any comments you may have -- positive or negative -- about this story which appears in the book Reality Conditions.

More information about this work can be found at another page on this Website.
(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 Progress
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Jester and the Mathematician by Alan R. Gordon
  2. The Measure of Eternity by Sean McMullen
  3. Zéro, ou les Cinq vies d'Aemer by Denis Guedj
  4. Summer Solstice by Charles Leonard Harness
  5. The Feeling of Power by Isaac Asimov
  6. Maxwell's Equations by Alex Kasman
  7. The Mystery of Khufu's Tomb by Mundy Talbot
  8. The Zero Clue by Rex Stout
  9. Nice Girl with Five Husbands by Fritz Leiber
  10. A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar / Akiva Goldsman
Ratings for Progress:
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:
3/5 (1 votes)

GenreHistorical Fiction,
TopicComputers/Cryptography, Algebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory, Real Mathematics,
MediumShort Stories,

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May 2016: I am experimenting with a new feature which will print a picture of the cover and a link to the page for a work of mathematical fiction when it is available. I hope you find this useful and convenient. In any case, please write to let me know if it is because I would be happy to either get rid of it or improve it if that would be better for you. Thanks! -Alex

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)