a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|A philosophy graduate student seduces and marries a famous mathematician. They do not have a great marriage, but we are presented with some thought provoking passages concerning Princeton University, the nature of mathematical "genius", and the power-play of sex in 20th Century America.
I wonder whether the fictional young Harvard number theorist Noam Himmel, who has no Ph.D. and later (see Strange Attractors) is ridiculed by other mathematicians for his theories of the mind, is based on real mathematicians. The author seems to know a lot about the world of mathematics (even though the idea of supernumbers -- so big that no set has that cardinality -- does not quite make sense to me). Does she know about young Harvard number theorist Noam Elkies? Or Andy Gleason (the only research math professor at Harvard without a Ph.D.)? Was she influenced by Roger Penrose and his theory of consciousness?
There are a few great passages about mathematics in this book that should definitely not be ignored by anyone interested in mathematical fiction. Though somewhat stereotypical, as Fusun points out in her comments below, these are well written passages that give the reader much to think about and discuss. For example, on page 28 we hear Noam's response to the question of whether he ever feels stupid:
Another interesting passage, from the point of view of the philosophy of mathematics, is the discussion on page 46 of the nature of mathematical discovery. Himmel believes, as do many real mathematicians that I know, that mathematics is a real universe out there somewhere, and that when we discover something new, it is more like the discovery of an ocean explorer than that of an inventor. Also interesting is a long discussion at about page 93 on what it feels like to do math research ("Sometimes I wander round and round in circles, going over the same ground, getting lost, sometimes for hours or days or even weeks....But I know that if I immerse myself in it long enough, things will clarify, simplify. I can count on that. When it happens, it happens fast. Boom ba boom ba boom! One thing after the other, taking the breath away. And then, you know, I feel like I'm walking out in some remote corner of space, where no mortal's ever been, all alone with something beautiful.") and who are the gods and demigods of mathematics.
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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)