Monday, August 13, 2007

Lovecraft and Math

Here is an excellent summary of HPL's math skills and his representation of mathematics as fictional art.


1 comment:

Chris Perridas said...

The text in case the link ever becomes disabled.

« End of News EraGod and Geometry
August 10th, 2007 by Walt
Mark Chu-Carroll draws attention to a Baptist high school that has managed to work God into the curriculum of its math classes.

One commenter, CRM-114, asks

BTW, what if they get a Jew or Muslim in the geometry class? Do they get alternative instruction fitting their religion?

which leads to another commenter, chaos_engineer, writing the greatest comment in the history of the internet.

Of course. Christians would be taught real geometry, with the Euclidean version of the parallel postulate.

People who practice flawed religions would naturally be more comfortable studying flawed, non-Euclidean geometries. Jews could learn Riemann’s version of the parallel postulate, Muslims could learn Lobachevksy’s, and atheists could learn H. P. Lovecraft’s.

This entry was posted on Friday, August 10th, 2007 at 10:53 pm and is filed under Mathematics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “God and Geometry”
Jonathan Vos Post Says:

August 11th, 2007 at 11:03 am
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Lovecraft and Mathematics

Before we tackle From Beyond, we need to pause and discuss Lovecraft and his complex relationship to mathematics. How did someone with poor math skills write such incredible scienti-fiction based on eerie quantum mathematical principles?

In the Dreams of the Witch House, HPL makes explicit references to Reimannian mathematics. However, he alludes to his poor performance in mathematics with the reference, “As it was, he failed in Calculus D and Advanced General Psychology…”. [1, p. 306].

Elsewhere we see a statement he made in 1931 [2, pp.63,64], “…I was not bad – except for mathematics, which repelled and exhausted me … it was algebra that formed the bugbear … the whole thing disappointed me bitterly .. of course advanced astronomy is simply a mass of mathematics … it was clear I hadn’t the brains to be an astronomer and that was a pill I couldn’t swallow with equanimity.”

In The Thing on the Doorstep we read, “Derby went through Miskatonic University in Arkham … {and matriculated at} sixteen and {he} completed his course in three years, majoring in English and French literature and receiving high marks in everything but mathematics and the sciences.”


Thu, Jul 20 06
Johnston Historical Society

Early in 1920 the Hughesdale Grammar School was in need of substitute math teachers and as a result of a family connection, the job was offered to one of Lovecraft’s aunts. H.P. was called in to help, and he corrected the papers that his aunt bought home to him. At this point in his life he was pretty reclusive, and he mentions that he would probably have become a nervous wreck if he had to work at the school and “hold in check a room full of incipient gangsters.” Well, that is calling it pretty close, but at least he did not call them a bunch of little monsters. Anyway, if anyone out there had family that went to the Hughesdale Grammar School in the early 1920s, their math papers may have been corrected by the old master himself.

Lovecraft often took long walks around Providence and vicinity, soaking up local flavor. In the fall of 1921 he and his aunt Annie headed west from College Hill toward “that remarkable eminence known as Neutaconhaut Hill” (the spelling is H.P.’s). From there he boasted of seeing the most magnificent view of Providence and the bay that was ever beheld. He also took note of an observatory built in the Gothic manner that crowned the hill but was in a state of disrepair. This would have been the King Observation Tower built around 1900 by Abbie King as a memorial to her family, which was one of the oldest in that section of town. The tower was used by sight-seers before vandals severely defaced the structure. Eventually it burned down. Perhaps it was the same “incipient gangsters” that had handed Lovecraft their math papers.


Dreams in the Witch-House
H.P. Lovecraft

Contributed by Jody Trout

In this story, Walter Gilman, a mathematics graduate student at Miskatonic University in Arkham, Mass, rents a room in the famed haunted “Witch House” of Keziah Mason, a witch who legend says escaped being burned at the stake by opening a gate into the fourth dimension. Walter starts to have strange dreams and happenings as he begins to connect his mathematical studies with the magic of Keziah Mason. He dies a horrible death in the end…

Contributed by Ian Thompson

first read this story when I was 13 and have read it several times since. Now 27 years later I still think its a great story and one of HPL’s best. The math/geometry is an excellent idea but not central to the story.

Contributed by Sebastian Lutz

As in many of Lovecraft’s stories, here again the basic idea is already given on the first pages and discarded as rumor and superstition, only to be verified in the end. Apart from this, the story is reasonably well written and can still give a little chill.

The mathematics is a jumble of buzzwords from Special and General Relativity, but do not show comprehension on the author’s side: Lovecraft seems to be confused about the difference between the physical content of the theories of relativity and their mathematical formulation in differential geometry. He repeatedly refers to “other dimensions” which can be accessed somehow by elaborate calculations and at one point the protagonist is said to be “near the boundary between the known universe and the fourth dimension” with his calculations, thus showing a lack of understanding of both geometry and relativity.


Through the Gates of the Silver Key
H.P. Lovecraft

Contributed by Jody Trout, Dartmouth.

“We read of the fantastic travels of the dreamer and mystic Randolph Carter as he arrives at the Ultimate Gate separating the parallel dimensions and alternate realities of the Universe. The Gate is guarded by the strange beings known as the Ancient Ones, who reveal the true higher-dimensional reality of the world. In the end, Randolph transmutates into an insectoid version of himself from another time and space….”

Contributed by Alex Elder

“Considering it was written in collaboration it strikes me that, (when compared to other Lovecraft) that the ‘Math’ is the work of the collaborative artist. The work is a bit neo-platonist, i.e. contrast Plato’s Timaeus and the stuff written about intersecting solids and also the concept of the ideal carter outside space time. This contrasts to the quite nihilistic and decadent tone in the text as well (see Pickman’s model amongst others). The Multidimensionality of Carter’s existence is profound, the final literary explosion could have been Lovecraft setting up chattering polylogues between the Carter-facets, linking up the text rhizomatically. Maths? I don’t know much about maths!”


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