Daily Archives: July 4, 2015

One Hundred and Fifty Years Ago Today

One Hundred and Fifty years ago Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was first published. This classic novel, written by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, is about a girl name Alice who falls through the rabbit hole into a fantasy world. This book, which is considered to be one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre ever published, is a seminal work in logic and mathematics, even though it is not traditionally recognized as such.

The author was a mathematician, and unlike Edwin A. Abbott, who, nineteen years later, decided to take a more traditional approach to the creation of a satirical mathematical novella with his (also pseudonymously published) Flatland, he decided to take a
less traditional approach and predate satire with a creative philosophical treaty wrapped in fantasy that, to the average reader, looks like gibberish.

For example, infinitesimal shrinking of distances is how we are taught limits when leaning (pre)calculus. The word play that explains that the semantic value of a sentence is not the same value of the converse talks about the different truth values of a statement, its converse, inverse, and contrapositive. The changing of seats is a reference to a classic combinatorics problem, where the goal is to count seats at the table. (Not to be confused with another famous circular combinatorics problem that is contained in the dining philosophers problem.) And the race gives us an example of the importance of one-to-one mapping if one is trying to get to the finish line and fully define a mathematical system.

It’s a great book, and one that will hopefully stay in publication for another 150 years.