Thursday, January 21, 2010

Is Alice in Wonderland about drugs or mathematics?

Apparently, at least one person thinks that many parts of Alice in Wonderland were about Lewis Carroll's (aka, Charles Dogson's) attempts to criticize the newfangled mathematics of the day (such as symbolic algebra with imaginary numbers). The full article appears in New Scientist.

I browsed through the article. It's certainly conceivable that Dodgson did this, but other than the obvious feasibility given that Dodgson was a mathematician (and a very conservative one with respect to mathematical ideas) and I find the idea being put forth to be a very interesting one, I don't really find the argument for this interpretation to be overly convincing. However, because it is rather interesting, I'd be curious to see the author of the New Scientist article give a seminar about it. Maybe I'll have a chance at some point. (She is doing a Ph.D. here, after all.)


Justin said...

A lot of people have thought that about Alice in Wonderland. There's a whole section on the wikipedia article about it. Do you know if the author is a PhD candidate in the math department, or is she a historian or literature student?

Mason said...

According to the bio in the New Scientist article, the author is a PhD candidate in one of the humanities programs (I forgot which one). It's not clear to me how much she knows, but the article refers to quaternions at some point, and I doubt she knows much about those.