Water, Water, Everywhere

Emmy Noether was a pure mathematician who can be credited with making Einstein’s Theory of Relativity understandable and applicable to physicists and mathematicians in the previous century. Eugenia Cheng, in the WSJ, provides a good introduction to the contributions made by this important scientist.

Noether laid the foundations for modern abstract mathematics. At the time, mathematicians were starting to realize that instead of studying the properties of specific objects, they could study systems of general properties. For example, instead of studying numbers and arithmetic directly, we study general systems in which you can add and multiply, and show that numbers are just one example. We can use the same techniques to study other examples. This is a central idea of contemporary math, and Noether’s work was at its beginning.

I started High School early, having been invited to experience a new, experimental approach to mathematics. There I was, 13 years old confronted by a new school, a frightening new teacher, and a new math full of circles and arrows but missing such comforting elements such as plus-signs and the once familiar slash and splat of division and multiplication. Our books were piles of paper that we had to collate and hold together with brass fasteners: books which were occasionally updated with new pages where the ink was barely dry.

It was theoretical mathematics and it was my first interaction to having my brain cells rearranged.

That new teacher, the Admiral, was a dashing old gent in tweeds, looking like a cross between Theodore Roosevelt and Ray Collins. To ease his new students into the ambiance of his classroom, the Admiral had a huge sign over the chalkboard announcing the strict “Thou shall nots” we all had to live by lest the Admiral slam his heavy gavel on his desk and ban you to the brig. I only remember one of the dozen or so commandments: “Thou shall not harass the teacher!”

Obviously the school considered me a strong prospect in mathematics but by my senior year I found John Keats far more interesting than permutations or parabolas. So I dropped out of the program, blew off advanced physics, dropped chemistry, waxed my surfboard, and was often found reciting Coleridge while bobbing in the swells off Ocean Beach.

Funny how a chance paragraph in a seldom read paper makes connections leading to this month’s reading list.

  1. The Winter Queen — Boris Akunin
  2. The Bridge on the Drina — Ivo Andric
  3. Group Portrait with Lady — Heinrich Böll
  4. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall — Anne Brontë
  5. Ragnarok: The End of the Gods — A. S. Byatt
  6. The Ruin of Kasch — Roberto Calasso
  7. No Name — Wilkie Collins
  8. Ratner’s Star — Don DeLillo
  9. The Death of Vivek Oji: A Novel — Akwaeke Emezi
  10. Lanark: A Life In Four Books — Alisdair Gray
  11. The Spell — Alan Hollinghurst
  12. A Man In Love: My Struggle Book 2 — Karl Ove Knausgârd
  13. The Melancholy of Resistance — Lásló Krasznahorkai
  14. The Tool & the Butterflies — Dmitry Lipskerov
  15. Outer Dark — Cormac McCarthy
  16. First Person Singular: Stories — Haruki Murakami
  17. The Pit — Frank Norris
  18. The Talisman — Sir Walter Scott
  19. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead: A Novel — Olga Tokarczuk
  20. The Liar’s Dictionary — Eley Williams


Possible BFBs:

  • The Adolescent — Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Sleepwalkers — Hermann Broch
  • The Kindly Ones: A Novel — Jonathan Littel.

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