MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Lovesong of the Electric Bear (2005)
Snoo Wilson (playwright)
Highly Rated!

This play about Alan Turing, told from the point of view of Porgy, his teddy bear, was produced as part of the Summer 2005 season at the Potomac Theater Project in Maryland. Turing certainly had both a brilliant mathematical career and a tragic biography, which makes him a frequent topic for works of mathematical fiction. (See this list of other works of mathematical fiction featuring him as a character.) But, you must admit that the idea of having an actress portray his favorite stuffed animal, following him through his life until the moment of his suicide is, if nothing else, original. I have not seen it, but the reviews suggest that the play is not as insipid as the one-line summary above might lead you to believe. In fact, it appears that through this unusual plot device, Wilson has been able to create yet another worthwhile fictional exploration of the life of Alan Turing.

Thanks go, yet again, to Peter Freyd who combs through literary reviews looking for hints of mathematical content. If not for the review of this play which he e-mailed to me, I might never have noticed this new work of mathematical fiction. (Thank you, Peter!)

Contributed by Snoo Wilson

[I would like to tender my excuses in advance and blush in advance for praising my own literary qualities but they've been endorsed by audiences and reviewers of the play.] The mathematical nature of Turing's philosophy was absolutely central to the play's construction in writing: by its very nature Turing's model of the mathematical universe forms the boundary between the known and the unknowable––which in turn, has a sympathetic correlation in the brain's perception of itself as conscious or unconscious. I have made the play which is not yet published available for download on http://www.snoowilson.co.uk and I'd be grateful if you would point interested parties in that direction.

It is very kind of Mr. Wilson to make the script of his play available to us free on the internet. (I hope it remains available even after it is published, but would certainly understand if this is not possible.) In case it becomes unavailable, or for those who do not want to download the entire script in PDF format, here is just a taste. Note that the bear, Porgy, speaks but is heard only by Turing:

(quoted from Lovesong of the Electric Bear)

Und’grad1. What’s he like? I heard he eats grass when he goes for a run.

Und’grad2. True, but he doesn’t swallow it. He just spits it out down his front.

Und’grad1. Urgh!

Und’grad2 And he keeps his teddy bear in his rooms too. Weird! (Prods bear)

Porgy Careful how you poke!

Und’grad1 Makes your average nutty mathematics professor look positively normal.

Porgy Oy! Leave my ears alone. And don’t try to push your chubby finger up me I’ll have you rusticated and then tarred and feathered! One word to Master is all it takes. Settle down!

Und’grad1 What’s the bear reading?

Und’grad2. (looks) Principia Mathematica, by Bertrand Russell.

Porgy Yes indeed. My dear students, this noble tome attempts to establish the logical truth of mathematics. It was written before the Great War and we now know it is impossible to establish the logical truth of mathematics. So you could say I am reading it in some disappointment. Bertie Russell got it wrong, simple as that.

(Enter Turing with a grass-and slobber stained singlet and running shorts, panting.)

Porgy Indeed, reading between the lines of the equations, you might say the book is actually a surrender note to mathematics, from a hopelessly randy professor, whose thoughts were elsewhere.

...

(Turing takes over smoothly)

Turing Thank you, bear. (To Undergrads) It’s become clear to the next generation of mathematicians, that mathematics is no longer classical or logical. The stuff used to build bombs and bridges with turns out to be unpredictable or ambiguous. Sometimes it stops, and won’t go on. Maths is incomplete.

Porgy You’re surely not planning to give this tutorial looking as if a camel has been sick down your front?

Turing (Turing removes singlet.) I was lucky enough to come across a clump of the herb called fat hen while I was running, which has got huge amounts of vitamin C in it; But when you’re in movement, you see, there’s not point in taking on board too much cellulose.

Porgy I’ve got an idea. Take off all your clothes and deliver your talk standing on the weighing machine. They’ll never forget it.

Turing Would you like to take over the tutorial, bear?

Porgy I will, but can they hear me? Being inanimate myself, I have arrived at rather different conclusions to my master on higher maths. For instance, the Universal Machine is a useless theory.

Turing What is theoretically possible, can become possible. Drake worked out it was possible to sail round the world, in theory. Then he went ahead and did it.

Porgy A flat world is impossible, a round world is possible. The Universal machine is impossible. Because if you had something that is bigger than the universe you started with, then as soon as you have that, you’d have to start your calculations of size all over again to include the Universal Machine, and so on ad infinitum. Do put some clothes on. None of them are impressed with your flat-earth theories.

Und’grad1Sir, We’ve got another tutorial we have to go to now.

Turing Gosh, is that the time? Very quickly, then. I shall summarise. Given that there is a mathematical equivalent for any action, the universal machine is a notional calculator which breaks down all actions into binary code. It is a computer.

Und’grad1I thought a computer was a person who worked out mathematical problems.

Turing A person, or a thing. It’s all the same.

Und’grad2What does the Universal Machine make of the Entschheidungsproblem?

Turing Are you all familiar with the Entschheidungsproblem ? The philosophical problem of mathematical endings, unforeseen by Russell and Whitehead!

Porgy You can’t hope to explain that in minus five minutes. They’re already looking at you like a bunch of electrocuted sheep.

Turing What happens when a powerful computer comes to something incomputable? Certain mathematical formula are incomputable. The Universal Machine, having infinite resources, is able to shadow all the tasks that mathematics supports the real world with. So it is a model of reality, albeit a larger one.

Contributed by Prof. D. Hejhal

A wonderful play, with a truly heart-felt ending! (saw it performed by Carleton College Theater Group)

More information about this work can be found at www.snoowilson.co.uk.
(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 Lovesong of the Electric Bear
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore (playwright)
  2. Fermat's Last Tango by Joanne Sydney Lessner / Joshua Rosenblum
  3. Oracle by Greg Egan
  4. Partition by Ira Hauptman
  5. The Fairytale of the Completely Symmetrical Butterfly by Dietmar Dath
  6. The Blue Door by Tanya Barfield
  7. Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land by John Crowley
  8. The Parrot's Theorem by Denis Guedj
  9. Evariste and Heloise by Marco Abate
  10. The Cambridge Quintet by John L. Casti
Ratings for Lovesong of the Electric Bear:
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:
3.67/5 (3 votes)
..
Literary Quality:
4/5 (3 votes)
..

Categories:
GenreHistorical Fiction, Fantasy,
MotifReal Mathematicians, Turing,
TopicComputers/Cryptography,
MediumPlays, Available Free Online,

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Your Help Needed: Some site visitors remember reading works of mathematical fiction that neither they nor I can identify. It is time to crowdsource this problem and ask for your help! You would help a neighbor find a missing pet...can't you also help a fellow site visitor find some missing works of mathematical fiction? Please take a look and let us know if you have seen these missing stories anywhere!.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)