mathematical fiction

We had friends over for dinner, and the subject of creativity came up. Somebody suggested that the Mathematician’s job was just as creative in nature as mine, at which I balked.

Me: You solve problems.

Mathematician: Which requires creative thinking.

Me: Listen, bub. Your idea of a good time is a knotty algorithm. Your problem solving and my invention of a world out of thin air? Not the same thing. Not that I could solve an algorithm. Or know what an algorithm is, even.

Mathematician: An algorithm is basically a recipe. You create an algorithm in order to solve a specific problem.

Our friends thought that was a great definition but the fact remains: I still don’t know what an algorithm is, and I can’t picture it. Flour + sugar + butter: shortbread. Bush + Cheney + Cowardly Congress: Patriot Act. Those are recipes. But a recipe to solve a problem? In fiction?

Problem: The titanic is going down.


Problem: Character X is terrified of character Z finding out the Truth.


This might mean that (1) algorithms are limited in the kinds of problems they can solve; (2) my brain is simply resistant to the concept of the algorithm. But consider this: can an algorithm build an entire universe?  An algorithm is something constructed in response to a question, if I understand the definition correctly. Creativity is coming up with the question to start with. I rest my case.


7 Replies to “mathematical fiction”

  1. Sooooo, somebody decided using the word algorithm would keep all the riffraff away. And mostly it has. There are lots of other words that keep the riffraff away. Like penultimate. Or antipenultimate. Potential (as a noun). Acetaminophen. Monocot. Well, they’d never name the product “Monocot B Gon” when the riffraff wants something to kill grass and is willing to pay money for it. Oops. Then they stop being riffraff and become CUSTOMERS.

    Algorithm is just a fancy word for “procedure.” A recipe is a procedure. A cookbook is a bunch of algorithms. A set of directions. How about a crochet stitch? An algorithm. A procedure.

    Hmmmm. I wonder if anyone would buy a book, “100 Crochet Algorithms.”

  2. WOW! I am impressed! I often have wondered what happened to people I was in school with (yes, I know you should never end a sentence with “with” but sometimes it just works out that way).
    I can’t agree with your politics (let’s not argue for now) but I have always admired ones who bring a very creative perspective to the world. I thank you for that.
    I am sorry I missed your creativity while we were at St. Ben’s. Maybe some algorithms obstructed my view! :-) :-) :-)

    1. I don’t mean to be rude at all… but what does DG have to do with Rosina? Yes, I came to Rosina’s books through Diana’s Outlander series, and I’m so glad I did :), but I kind of tire of the constant comparison between the two. Apart from being historical fiction novels and contain great love stories, the two authors couldn’t be more different and I am saddened that it sometimes seems that Rosina/Sara Donati doesn’t get her deserved praise. Sorry, I just had to put it out there.

  3. I posted it because it is known that Rosina and Diana are friends and I wondered if she had seen the nice article about her friend. End of story.

  4. Petzi: Sorry I didn’t mean to be bitchy :S I didn’t realize that was your intention.

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