Saturday, September 2, 2017

Knight Moves

Filed under: Uncategorized — m759 @ 12:42 PM

Ursula K. Le Guin, in Amazing Stories , Sept. 1992, published
"The Rock That Changed Things" (pp. 9-13) and her story from
thirty years earlier, "April in Paris" (Fantastic Stories , Sept. 1962.)
The latter (pp. 14-19) was followed by some brief remarks (p. 19)
comparing the two stories.

For "The Rock," see Le Guin + Rock in this journal.

"April in Paris" is about time travel by means of an alchemist's
pentagram. The following figure from 1962 is in lieu of a pentagram —

'Loop De Loop,' Johnny Thunder, Diamond Records, 1962

See as well a search for 1962 in this journal.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Patterns for the Abbess

Filed under: Uncategorized — m759 @ 11:15 PM

On Ursula K. Le Guin's short story
"The Rock That Changed Things"
(in A Fisherman of the Inland Sea ) —

From https://www.academia.edu/9496639/

By Richard D. Erlich, December 2005

…  And at this point a wise, old nur, so excellent at maintaining patterns that the obls let him live even after he was maimed, enters the discussion to do some pattern criticism.  For a first-order approximation reading, he suggests "It might say, 'The nur places stones,'" and others fill in that the nur would be Bu.  Ko corrects them with "patterns aren't ever about nurs!" and Bu counters with "Maybe patterns made of colors are."  Looking with all three of his eyes, Ko reads, "—'the nur places stones beautifully in uncontrollable loopingness …. foreshadowing the seen.'"  Un suggests "The vision" but cannot figure out the last word.  Bu is very excited, inferring that "the patterns of the colors …. aren't accidental.  Not meaningless.  All the time, we have been putting them here in patterns—not just ones the obls design and we execute, but other patterns—nur patterns—with new meanings."  Amid the straight lines of the obls' designs they now see, "other designs, less complete, often merely sketched or hinted—circles, spirals, ovals, and complex curvilinear mazes and labyrinths of great and unpredictable beauty and significance. ***  Both patterns were there; did one cancel the other, or was each part of the other?  It was difficult to see them both at once, but not impossible."  Had the nurs done this all totally unconsciously "without even knowing we were doing it?"   Un admits to having looked at colors, and so did Ko, plus "grain and texture."  Un warns them to keep word of their works from the Professors: "They don't like patterns to change….  It makes them nervous"— and nervous Professors are dangerous to nurs (62-63). 

Bu, however "was so excited and persuasive" about colors of stones "that other nurs of Obling began studying the color patterns, learning how to read their meanings."  And the practice spreads.  Soon, all sorts of nurs were finding "wild designs in colored stones, and surprising messages concerning obls, nurs, and blits" (64)  Conservative nurs— "Many nurs," we're told—resist the trend.  "If we start inventing new meanings, changing things, disturbing the patterns, where will it end?"   It is unclear just how many of the nurs believe «Mr. Charlie treats us real good»—or, as we soon see, Ms. Charlie—but certainly not Bu; she "would hear none of that; she was full of her discovery. She no longer listened in silence.  She spoke."  Bu goes up to the Rectory Mosaic, wearing around her neck a turquoise that she calls her "selfstone."  Up at the Mosaic, Bu crouches before the Rectoress and asks "Would the Lady Rectoress in her kindness answer a question I have?"  

["The Rock That Changed Things" was first published in Amazing Stories , Vol. 67 # 6, No. 574, September 1992, pp. 9-13.]

For an alternative to the Rectoress, see the Abbess of the previous post.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Types of Ambiguity

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — m759 @ 10:31 AM

From Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel
The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia

Chapter One

“There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it, and even a child could climb it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an idea of boundary. But the idea was real. It was important. For seven generations there had been nothing in the world more important than that wall.

Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon which side of it you were on.”


“We note that the phrase ‘instead of having a gate it degenerated into mere geometry’ is mere fatuousness. If there is an idea here, degenerate, mere, and geometry  in concert do not fix it. They bat at it like a kitten at a piece of loose thread.”

— Samuel R. Delany, The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction  (Dragon Press, 1977), page 110 of revised edition, Wesleyan University Press, 2009

(For the phrase mere geometry  elsewhere, see a note of April 22. The apparently flat figures in that note’s illustration “Galois Affine Geometry” may be regarded as degenerate  views of cubes.)

Later in the Le Guin novel—

“… The Terrans had been intellectual imperialists, jealous wall builders. Even Ainsetain, the originator of the theory, had felt compelled to give warning that his physics embraced no mode but the physical and should not be taken as implying the metaphysical, the philosophical, or the ethical. Which, of course, was superficially true; and yet he had used number, the bridge between the rational and the perceived, between psyche and matter, ‘Number the Indisputable,’ as the ancient founders of the Noble Science had called it. To employ mathematics in this sense was to employ the mode that preceded and led to all other modes. Ainsetain had known that; with endearing caution he had admitted that he believed his physics did, indeed, describe reality.

Strangeness and familiarity: in every movement of the Terran’s thought Shevek caught this combination, was constantly intrigued. And sympathetic: for Ainsetain, too, had been after a unifying field theory. Having explained the force of gravity as a function of the geometry of spacetime, he had sought to extend the synthesis to include electromagnetic forces. He had not succeeded. Even during his lifetime, and for many decades after his death, the physicists of his own world had turned away from his effort and its failure, pursuing the magnificent incoherences of quantum theory with its high technological yields, at last concentrating on the technological mode so exclusively as to arrive at a dead end, a catastrophic failure of imagination. Yet their original intuition had been sound: at the point where they had been, progress had lain in the indeterminacy which old Ainsetain had refused to accept. And his refusal had been equally correct– in the long run. Only he had lacked the tools to prove it– the Saeba variables and the theories of infinite velocity and complex cause. His unified field existed, in Cetian physics, but it existed on terms which he might not have been willing to accept; for the velocity of light as a limiting factor had been essential to his great theories. Both his Theories of Relativity were as beautiful, as valid, and as useful as ever after these centuries, and yet both depended upon a hypothesis that could not be proved true and that could be and had been proved, in certain circumstances, false.

But was not a theory of which all the elements were provably true a simple tautology? In the region of the unprovable, or even the disprovable, lay the only chance for breaking out of the circle and going ahead.

In which case, did the unprovability of the hypothesis of real coexistence– the problem which Shevek had been pounding his head against desperately for these last three days. and indeed these last ten years– really matter?

He had been groping and grabbing after certainty, as if it were something he could possess. He had been demanding a security, a guarantee, which is not granted, and which, if granted, would become a prison. By simply assuming the validity of real coexistence he was left free to use the lovely geometries of relativity; and then it would be possible to go ahead. The next step was perfectly clear. The coexistence of succession could be handled by a Saeban transformation series; thus approached, successivity and presence offered no antithesis at all. The fundamental unity of the Sequency and Simultaneity points of view became plain; the concept of interval served to connect the static and the dynamic aspect of the universe. How could he have stared at reality for ten years and not seen it? There would be no trouble at all in going on. Indeed he had already gone on. He was there. He saw all that was to come in this first, seemingly casual glimpse of the method, given him by his understanding of a failure in the distant past. The wall was down. The vision was both clear and whole. What he saw was simple, simpler than anything else. It was simplicity: and contained in it all complexity, all promise. It was revelation. It was the way clear, the way home, the light.”

Related material—

Time Fold, Halloween 2005, and May and Zan.

See also The Devil and Wallace Stevens

“In a letter to Harriet Monroe, written December 23, 1926, Stevens refers to the Sapphic fragment that invokes the genius of evening: ‘Evening star that bringest back all that lightsome Dawn hath scattered afar, thou bringest the sheep, thou bringest the goat, thou bringest the child home to the mother.’ Christmas, writes Stevens, ‘is like Sappho’s evening: it brings us all home to the fold’ (Letters of Wallace Stevens, 248).”

— “The Archangel of Evening,” Chapter 5 of Wallace Stevens: The Intensest Rendezvous, by Barbara M. Fisher, The University Press of Virginia, 1990

Sunday, September 15, 2002

Sunday September 15, 2002

Filed under: Uncategorized — m759 @ 11:07 PM

Evariste Galois and 
The Rock That Changed Things

An article in the current New York Review of Books (dated Sept. 26) on Ursula K. Le Guin prompted me to search the Web this evening for information on a short story of hers I remembered liking.  I found the following in the journal of mathematician Peter Berman:

  • A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, Ursula K. Le Guin, 1994:
    A book of short stories. Good, entertaining. I especially liked “The Rock That Changed Things.” This story is set in a highly stratified society, one split between elite and enslaved populations. In this community, the most important art form is a type of mosaic made from rocks, whose patterns are read and interpreted by scholars from the elite group. The main character is a slave woman who discovers new patterns in the mosaics. The story is slightly over-the-top but elegant all the same.

I agree that the story is elegant (from a mathematician, a high compliment), so searched Berman’s pages further, finding this:

A table of parallels

between The French Mathematician (a novel about Galois) and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

My own version of the Philosopher’s Stone (the phrase used instead of “Sorcerer’s Stone” in the British editions of Harry Potter) appears in my profile picture at top left; see also the picture of Plato’s diamond figure in my main math website.  The mathematics of finite (or “Galois”) fields plays a role in the underlying theory of this figure’s hidden symmetries.  Since the perception of color plays a large role in the Le Guin story and since my version of Plato’s diamond is obtained by coloring Plato’s version, this particular “rock that changes things” might, I hope, inspire Berman to extend his table to include Le Guin’s tale as well.

Even the mosaic theme is appropriate, this being the holiest of the Mosaic holy days.

Dr. Berman, G’mar Chatimah Tova.

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