Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Tuesday February 11, 2003

Filed under: General — m759 @ 5:10 PM

St. John von Neumann’s Song

The mathematician John von Neumann, a heavy drinker and party animal, advocated a nuclear first strike on Moscow.*  Confined to a wheelchair before his death, he was, some say, the inspiration for Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.  He was a Jew converted to Catholicism.  His saint’s day was February 8.  Here is an excerpt from a book titled Abstract Harmonic Analysis**, just one of the fields illuminated by von Neumann’s brilliance:

“…von Neumann showed that an intrinsic definition can be given for the mean M(f) of an almost periodic function…. Von Neumann proved the existence and properties of M(f) by completely elementary methods….”

Should W. B. Yeats wander into the Catholic Anticommunists’ section of Paradise, he might encounter, as in “Sailing to Byzantium,” an unexpected set of “singing-masters” there: the Platonic archetypes of the Hollywood Argyles.

The Argyles’ attire is in keeping with Yeats’s desire for gold in his “artifice of eternity”… In this case, gold lamé, but hey, it’s Hollywood.  The Argyles’ lyrics will no doubt be somewhat more explicit in heaven.  For instance, in “Alley Oop,” the line

“He’s a mean motor scooter and a bad go-getter”

will in its purer heavenly version be rendered

“He’s a mean M(f)er and…”

in keeping with von Neumann’s artifice of eternity described above.

This theological meditation was suggested by previous entries on Yeats, music and Catholicism (see Feb. 8, von Neumann’s saint’s day) and by the following recent weblog entries of a Harvard senior majoring in mathematics:

“I changed my profile picture to Oedipus last night because I felt cursed by fate….”

“It’s not rational for me to believe that I am cursed, that the gods are set against me.  Because I don’t even believe in any gods!”

The spiritual benefits of a Harvard education are summarized by this student’s new profile picture:

The image “http://log24.com/log/pix03/030211-oedipus.gif” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.


*Source: Von Neumann and the Development of Game Theory

**by Harvard professor Lynn H. Loomis, Van Nostrand, 1953, p. 169.


  1. I’m trying to figure out which of the Argyles I like the least: The ones wearing gold lame, or the single square gray suit.

    At least Oedipus came back a few plays later and saved the day. Due to the miracles of photogrophy and printing, however, those outfits will always remain with us as a burden.

    Comment by HomerTheBrave — Tuesday, February 11, 2003 @ 7:16 PM

  2. I’ve always been fascinated by the connections between the various disciplines of human thought — music and mathematics, literature and science…. They’re all connected in some way, if interesting people care to dig around and put those connections into words.

    You may have read an interesting book by a guy named Doulas Hofstader, called Godel, Escher and Bach: And Eternal Golden Braid. It’s an amazing book on a number of levels, in that it exposes connections between these supposedly separate realms of though, and articulates them in a way which is, in itself, an artistic triumph…

    Take care

    Comment by justinburnett — Wednesday, February 12, 2003 @ 12:29 AM

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