*In which The Author expounds on the Two Cultures*

**(Readers of a nervous disposition are advised that the following entry contains mathematical symbols.)**

*Does God Play Dice?*by Ian Stewart. I was working in Blackwells in the Polytechnic of Wales at the time, and borrowed the hardback copy when it first came into stock. At the time, Chaos Theory was starting to make waves in the popular imagination, and Prof. Stewart’s book was an entertaining, amusing and sometimes baffling introduction to a subject I was interested in.

*Metamagical Themas*, and it was equally fascinating. Here’s a taster of what Prof. Hofstadter had to say:

*attractor*. This whole field is founded on one concept: the iteration of a real-valued mathematical function – that is, the behaviour of a sequence of values

*x*,

*f*(

*x*),

*f*(

*f*(

*x*)),

*f*(

*f*(

*f*(

*x*)))), … , where

*f*is some interesting function. The initial value of

*x*is called the

*seed*. The idea is to feed

*f*‘s output back into

*f*as new input over and over again, to see if some kind of pattern emerges.

*p*with the property that for any real value of

*x*,

*p*(

*x*) is also real, and where

*p*(

*p*(

*x*)) equals –

*x*? The condition that p be real is what gives the problem a twist; otherwise the function

*p*(

*x*) =

*ix*(where

*i*is the square root of -1) would work. In fact, you can even think of the challenge as that of finding a real-valued “square root of the minus sign”. A related problem is to find a real-valued function

*q*, whose property is that

*q*(

*q*(

*x*)) = 1/

*x*for all

*x*other than zero. Note that no matter how you construct

*p*and

*q*, each will have the property that, given any seed, repeated iteration creates a cycle of length four (Hofstadter, 1986, 366).

**(You can come out now, they’ve gone!)**

*An Introduction to Communication Studies*. This employed a very different idiom. It wasn’t a mathematically-defined, logical structure which could be followed step-wise by someone with a background in the subject. It was far more vague and ‘woolly’ (to use an oft-used adjective). Here’s a short extract so that you can see what I mean:

*meant*anything.

*and*Hofstadter (in his earlier book

*Gödel, Escher, Bach*) was Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver’s

*The Mathematical Theory of Communication*– so I ordered myself a copy of that as well. I’ve tried to get through it a couple of times, but it’s hard work. Even so, it’s the foundation on which the Internet was built, so it’s an important book. It’s also got applications in genetics, amongst other things, as it defines information mathematically. (I very much doubt if my HTML skills are up to quoting any of the mathematics here.)

*Does God Play Dice*,

*Chaos*by James Gleick, and

*Chaos for Beginners*by Ziauddin Sardar & Iwona Abrams. I knew that we had one or two books in the maths section that covered the subject as well. I decided not to mention this high-level stuff. After all, to most people, ‘chaos’ meant just a collection of pretty pictures, like these:

*get*anything easier than this,’ I told her.

*still*had to get a friend with a degree in engineering to talk me through some of it.’

*It doesn’t!*

*Social Text*published a paper called ‘Transgressing the boundaries: Towards a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity.’ Here’s how it starts:

*Social Text*46/47 (spring/summer 1996), 217–52).

*really*want to read the rest of this, don’t let me stop you …)

http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/transgress_v2/transgress_v2_singlefile.html

*Intellectual Impostures*. When the book was published – inititally in Paris, and subsequently in translation in the UK – Sokal and Bricmont received a barrage of criticism from social scientists who felt that they had been unfairly treated. Yet hardly anyone rushed to the defence of the beleagured French intellectuals who bore the brunt of Sokal and Bricmont’s attack.

*Nature*, described it as ‘a splendid book’. At the time, Dawkins was Professor for Public Understanding of Science at Oxford. His endorsement of the book was, I suspect, partly responsible for the massive publicity surrounding its UK publication in 1998. Some measure of the book’s impact can be extrapolated from the newspaper reviews:

*Financial Times*

*Sunday Telegraph*

*The Observer*

*The Guardian*

*space*,

*bounded*,

*closed*,

*topology*) but without paying attention to their meaning; the sentence is meaningless from a mathematical point of view. Furthermore – and most importantly – Lacan never explains the relevance of these mathematical concepts for psychoanalysis. Even if the concept of ‘

*jouissance*‘ had a clear and precise meaning, Lacan provides no reason whatsoever to think that jouissance can be considered a ‘space’ in the technical sense of this word in topology (Sokal & Bricmont, 1999, 19).

**Fast forward to 2000.**

*crachach*types who always turn up at these things. It was going to be a late night, so Jo was driving me home afterwards. I don’t think I’d been to the Bay very often at that time, so it was a change of scene for me.

*On Translating a Person*. Here’s an extract:

**Fast forward to 2011.**

*Reading Texts*module I’m enrolled on, I’ve been working my way through Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle’s

*An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory*. And I’m up against psychobabble and pseudery again. Here’s an extract from their chapter on ‘The Uncanny’:

*of*the uncanny, an experience which disturbs any attempt to remain analytically detached and objective. This is strikingly clear from the early pages of Freud’s essay, in which he seeks to show how the German word for ‘homely’ (

*‘heimlich’*), with its connotations of ‘private’. ‘hidden’, ‘secret’, inevitably contains is opposite – the ‘unhomely’ or

*unheimlich*. From this it may be concluded that the uncanny cannot readily be avoided or denied: ultimately, the uncanny is aligned with death. As a form of strange disruption, questioning and uncertainty, the idea of the uncanny may be frightening, but it also continues to be a crucially important and productive area of literary study (Bennett & Royle, 2009, 42).

**REFERENCES**

*An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory*. 4th edn. Harlow: Pearson Longman.

*Literary Theory: An introduction*. Oxford: Blackwell.

*Introduction to Communication Studies*. 2nd ed. London: Routledge

*Metamagical Themas: Questing for the essence of mind and pattern*. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

*Intellectual Impostures: Postmodern philosophers’ abuse of science*. Rev. ed. London: Profile Books.

**Other works mentioned:**

*Chaos: Making a new science.*London: Little, Brown

*Gödel, Escher, Bach: An eternal golden braid*. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

*Chaos for Beginners*. Cambridge: Icon Books.

*The Mathematical Theory of Communication*. Urbana. IL.: University of Illinois Press.

*Does God Play Dice? The mathematics of chaos*. Harmondsworth: Penguin

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