MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Blue Tigers (1977)
Jorge Luis Borges
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Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for literati.

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

The protagonist, a Scotsman, chases down reports of a blue species of tigers sighted in village in Punjab, Pakistan. He never finds a blue tiger but ends up obtaining some magical stones on a hillside outside the village. The stones appear to multiply and combine at will in an invisible manner, moving in and out of some unseen realm so that the author is unable to make any sense of their count or keep track of them. They appear to defy the familiar laws of arithmetic. As he says,

(quoted from Blue Tigers)

“Naturally, the four mathematical operations - adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing - were impossible. The stones resisted arithmetic as they did the calculation of probability. Forty discs, divided, might become nine; those nine in turn divided might yield 300.”

In the end, a mysterious beggar relieves the author of the stones which have become the bane of his thoughts and life.

More quotes:

(quoted from Blue Tigers)

“If someone were to tell me that there are unicorns on the moon, I could accept or reject the report, or suspend judgement, but it is something I could imagine. If, on the other hand, I were told that six or seven unicorns on the moon could be three, I would declare a priori that such a thing was impossible. The man who has learnt that three plus one are four doesn't have to go through a proof of that assertion with coins, or dice, or chess pieces, or pencils. He knows it, and that's that. He cannot conceive a different sum. There are mathematicians who say that three plus one is a tautology for four, a different way of saying "four" ... But I, Alexander Craigie, of all men on earth, was fated to discover the only objects that contradict that essential law of the human mind. At first I was in a sort of agony, fearing that I'd gone mad; since then, I have come to believe that it would have been better had I been merely insane, for my personal hallucinations would be less disturbing than the discovery that the universe can tolerate disorder. If three plus one can be two, or 14, then reason is madness.”

And

(quoted from Blue Tigers)

“The same yearning for order that had created mathematics in the first place made me seek some order in that aberration of mathematics, the insensate stones that propagate themselves.”

And

(quoted from Blue Tigers)

“As I manipulated the stones that destroyed the science of mathematics, more than once I thought of those Greek stones that were the first ciphers and that had been passed down to so many languages as the word "calculus". Mathematics I told myself, had its origin, and now has its end, in stones. If Pythagoras had worked with these ...”

More information about this work can be found at en.wikipedia.org.
(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 Blue Tigers
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Napier's Bones by Derryl Murphy
  2. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
  3. 36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Goldstein
  4. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  5. Mortal Immortal by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
  6. Back to Methuselah by George Bernard Shaw
  7. The Devil and the Lady by Alfred Tennyson
  8. The Princess Hoppy or the Tale of Labrador by Jacques Roubaud
  9. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
  10. I Married You for Happiness by Lily Tuck
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Categories:
GenreFantasy,
Motif
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory, Logic/Set Theory,
MediumShort Stories,

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