MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Einstein Enigma (2010)
José Rodrigues Dos Santos
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An adventure novel whose MacGuffin is a proof of the existence of God, formulated and hidden by Albert Einstein. There is more talk than action, which may disappoint some readers. For those interested in ideas, the fundamental concepts of chaos theory, Gödelian incompleteness and quantum physics are tossed around with great frequency, and at least to the characters in the book are combined in a new way with stunning implications.

In particular, the common theme of "hidden knowledge" (represented by sensitive dependence upon initial conditions in chaos theory, undecideable propositions in mathematical logic and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle in quantum physics) are used to create a sort of "conspiracy theory" paranoia that something is intentionally being hidden from us.

Of course, the part about Einstein and all of the main characters is fiction, but I am honestly not certain how seriously the author expects us to take the scientific and theological discussion. If it was just supposed to be the basis for an adventure story, then there is perhaps a bit too much rambling on about it. On the other hand, if he really intends to make a deep philosophical point, he may need another medium and some stronger arguments. (I guess the chapter in which Gematria is used to tie ancient Hebrew to modern string theory suggests that the author is just playing with these ideas for fun...but then then again, maybe not!)

Contributed by Lena

It is, in my view, certainly a plus to see science itself play a protagonist role in a contemporary work of fiction. I sincerely hope that readers who enjoyed "The Einstein Enigma" will be encouraged to delve deeper into some of the subject areas that are mentioned in the novel.

Having said that, I find it preposterous to compare the writing and intellectual style to that of people of the calibre of Umberto Ecco - a comparison which I have read in several online reviews!

And even though I am pleased to see a book with passages that make the vulgarisation of science exciting, I am on the other hand fairly annoyed at the simplistic depictions and gross misrepresentations of science and scientists alike:

A cryptologist, for example, should nowadays be a highly trained mathematician and/or computer scientist. The informed reader cannot help but laugh at a purported cryptologist protagonist, Thomás Noronha, who takes ages to solve a simple substitution cipher and does not even think of writing a program to do the work for him (not to mention that an entire ministry of science does not contain a person who deems to do so...). The same laugh is ellicited when the author tries to convince us that a supposed cryptologist has never thought about artificial intelligence and free will before having a "revealing" chat with his father... But what will happen to the uninformed reader? I'm afraid that the image of the cryptologist that he will take away will be highly misleading.

I find it equally hard to believe that a doctor in quantum mechanics, who is well-read and cosmopolitan, has never grasped the concept of an anagram before, as is the case with Ariana...

It is equally laughable that the CIA would recruit an untrained average Joe for a highly critical mission.

I am not a physicist nor a mathematician myself - simply a computer scientist - so I cannot help but wonder where the author finds the boldness to write about some concepts with such certainty... Especially given the fact that most of his arguments seem simplistic at best, downright false at worst. For example:

  • The author tries to convince the reader that the universe could not have been created any other way. This is done by a page after page enumeration of several constants, distances, conditions which - should they differ by marginal percentages of their actual value - would render life on Earth impossible... The writer seems though to complete forget that all his proofs supposes the same structure of matter that we currently observe. What a poor imagination! I think that a god worth his salt could have created the universe in a completely different way, with a completely different stucture of matter, which could then possibly produce life under a completely different configuration of constants and under the influence of a very different type of forces.
  • The universe is a huge statistical playground and the fact that all conditions happened to be right for life in a small planet in some remote corner of the universe, by no means constitutes a "proof" that this configuration of conditions was intentional and not casual...
  • The writer uses the argument that because we can observe something, it could not have been done any other way. I think that the causality relation is mixed up here... Just because something DID happen the way it did, do we now observe it this way.
In terms of the writing style: The multiple useless comments of Bellamy about Ariana's sexual prowess as well as the comments of Luis Rocha on the principal activity of women being the reading of rose-scented magazines seem to me, a female reader, pitiful and borderline rage-inducing.

The writing is average at best. Mathematics are certainly a frequently mentioned plot-device, but the reader is not expected to have nor given any deeper insight into this fascinating discipline.

In general, the author comes across as highly naïve. The mental picture that the book paints of him in my mind, is that of a person that read some of the current physics theories recently for the first time and who cannot understand that many, many other people enjoy reading them, too, and might have grasped them as well as or even better than him. That he has read about them and is fascinated by them, is highly commendable. But this does not mean that he can expertly or enjoyably write about them.

Thank you, Lena, for sharing your comments and opinions. I agree with some of your remarks and disagree with others, but feel compelled in particular to address the three bulleted items that follow your claim that the ideas in the book are "simplistic". It should be noted that none of these ideas are original to the author. These precise issues are discussed and used by "heavyweights" in philosophy, theology and science. For instance, the so-called Anthropic Principle and the Fine Tuning Argument have been the subject of a large number of serious books and articles in recent years. This does not mean that you have to accept them as valid arguments. (I, personally, have argued against these positions in public debates and lectures.) But, it would be a mistake to imply that these were created by the author for the book or that they are so obviously wrong as to be able to be dismissed without careful consideration. If we suppose that the author is not a conspiracy theorist, but rather someone seeking to create some entertaining and mind-bending fiction, then I give him credit for taking a lot of ideas that are floating around in intellectual circles and tying them together in such a way as to produce a clever (even if not entirely convincing) whole.

Buy this work of mathematical fiction and read reviews at amazon.com. Amazon.com logo
(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 The Einstein Enigma
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Lucy and David and the God Equation by Alan McKenzie
  2. Pi by Darren Aronofsky (director)
  3. The Gimatria of Pi by Lavie Tidhar
  4. A Proof of God by Colin Adams
  5. Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer
  6. PopCo by Scarlett Thomas
  7. Improbable by Adam Fawer
  8. Gospel Truths by J.G. Sandom
  9. Gödel Numbers by J.W. Swanson
  10. Pythagoras' Revenge: A Mathematical Mystery by Arturo Sangalli
Ratings for The Einstein Enigma:
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)
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Literary Quality:
1.5/5 (2 votes)
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Categories:
GenreAdventure/Espionage,
MotifReligion, Gödel,
TopicMathematical Physics, Real Mathematics, Logic/Set Theory,
MediumNovels,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)