a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
There is an interpretation of Dante's "Divine Comedy" as a mystical description of the universe as a hypersphere (see "Dante and the 3-sphere"
American Journal of Physics -- December 1979 -- Volume 47, Issue 12, pp. 1031-1035 ). An unrelated strand of thought considers the total information storage and processing capacity of the human DNA. Baxter combines these two threads to come up with a lovely story which explains what Dante saw in his dream and why the central character in the story, a jesuit priest-mathematician, commits suicide even when she believes it to be a cardinal sin. Saying more will act as a spoiler to this short story.
As in some other stories, Baxter goes through the explanation of how the cross-sections of a hypersphere might appear to a 3-D being as a sequence of nested spheres and yet have the radii of the successive spheres increase at first and then decrease. As the sentient holographic version of the dead priest explains:
|(quoted from Dante Dreams)|
"How can a sphere have two centers?"
"Think about the equator", whispered Himmelfarb. "The globe of earth, remember? As you pass the equator, the concentric circles of latitude start to grow smaller, while still enclosing those to the south"
"But we aren't on the surface of a globe!"
"But we are on the surface of a 3-sphere. Do you see? The concentric spheres you see are exactly analogous to the lines of latitude on the two dimensional surface of a globe."
Originally published in the August 1998 issue of Asimov's magazine and reprinted in Baxter's anthology Phase Space.
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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books
let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.
(Maintained by Alex Kasman,
College of Charleston)