MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Mister God, This is Anna (1985)
Fynn
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Though it is presented as if it were non-fiction, it is generally believed that this account concerning a very thoughtful six year old girl is a work of fiction. It is primarily about the girl's philosophy of religion, but mathematics appears frequently as an object of discussion itself or in metaphor.

At one point, she and Fynn reveal that each of them independently discovered the joys of doubting mathematical rules. In particular, the question "What if 2+3 were 10 or 7 instead of 5?" They both find this line of questioning exciting and revealing. In fact, I would have to agree that this sort of thinking is valuable. For one thing, it helps the person thinking understand and appreciate the fact that the rules were constructed by people. (I suppose it depends on how you think about it. For me, mathematics is a human invention which has taken many thousands of years to become what it is...and it is still growing. Others may see math as a separate universe with an independent existence which we are merely exploring. In either case, there is a huge role for human involvement.) Moreover, many of the rules one comes up with in such games turn out to lead to a real mess...in which case you may gain some appreciation for the rules as they are generally taught. But, most interesting is when an alternative mathematics turns out to be interesting and even useful. Quite a lot of what mathematicians do is along these lines. We've created alternative number systems (such as the quaternions or the p-adic numbers) and alternative geometries (non-Euclidean, non-commutative, etc.) and some of these are as beautiful and useful as the "classical" versions!

There is also a long and interesting discussion about 0-dimensional points and how they represent an object after all other identifying information has been stripped away. For instance, a collection of 5 points could represent the contents of a bag with 5 apples, five possible states for an electron in an atom, the fingers on my right hand, etc. This is contrasted against lines and higher dimensional objects with "Mister God" being the eventual outcome of the sequence according to Anna.

Mathematical physicists may be interested in Anna's observation that a shadow can move faster than the speed of light, even with relativity taken into account. Those who have not thought Einstein's theories through may find this shocking, as Fynn seems to. In fact, it is just one example of a rather common situation in relativity. It is objects with mass that are forbidden to increase their speed beyond "c" in relativity. Other things, including abstract things which really exist only in our mind (like shadows) have no such restriction. A more physical version of this is the observation that wavefronts in quantum mechanics can travel faster than the speed of light. These things do not contradict relativity, in particular, because no information can be sent between points at super-luminal speeds using these apparent violations of the "speed limit".

The mathematics discussed in the book is deep and interesting for a six year old child, but I'm afraid that I did not get much out of the theological side of the book. Others, however, have found it to be quite an epiphany. Hopefully, some people who were moved by this book will write in with some comments so that visitors to this site can hear their viewpoint as well.

Contributed by Svetlovidov

Mathematics was not in my opinion a central theme to the book any more than music or mechanics which are also mentioned. The author of the book (Fynn) had great leanings toward maths and science and in one form or another were introduced throughout the work. The fundamental outline of the story however centre's on Anna's natural or organic belief and love for 'Mister God'. She was highly eclectic and anything and everything including maths were a sign of God's existence. I certainly understand the doubts as to the work's authenticity as I too have reservations at times but I believe there is a far greater likelihood of it being true than a work of fiction. Every book, be it fiction or non-fiction has it's source of readership. This is for believers and it is to them that it has it's greatest appeal. A book on mathematics would no doubt have great appeal for mathematicians but this is not one of them. Anyone of a pragmatic or scientific makeup would find much to criticise in Mister God This Is Anna but for believers it is pure magic. I understand there is a strange phenomena in quantum physics whereby many of it's processes and actions alter or cease when observed or recorded. So it is with belief or magic, know what the magician knows and there is no magic. Science has come a remarkably long way but for humanity I suggest it will be much longer before we will have anything more than pure faith. Scientists know what is true believers know truth.

Contributed by Phil

I truly think the theology is the main theme of the book, and that the math is more of a metaphor of the theological enlightenment brought out in simple 4 - 6 year old understanding. I.E. simple does not mean shallow, we can see the depth of understanding the spiritual aspect of God in statements like: (paraphrased) Mr. God doesn't have a face...because He doesn't have to turn around to see you. Stretching on that one, I haven't read the book since 1982 but the way of looking at God certainly stuck with me.

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(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 Mister God, This is Anna
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Shiloh Project by David R. Beaucage
  2. Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer
  3. The Mouse and his Child by Russell Hoban
  4. A Foundation in Wisdom by Robert Loyd Watson
  5. The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes
  6. Tangents by Greg Bear
  7. The Mathematics of Nina Gluckstein by Esther Vilar
  8. Long Division by Michael Redhill
  9. Star, Bright by Mark Clifton
  10. Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer by Ken Liu
Ratings for Mister God, This is Anna:
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:
2.5/5 (2 votes)
..
Literary Quality:
4.5/5 (2 votes)
..

Categories:
Genre
MotifReligion,
TopicInfinity, Algebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,
MediumNovels,

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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)