Friday, February 15, 2008

Is Pure Mathematics Poetic?

I receive a very important comment the other day from Jonathan who uses the JD2718 to identify himself on his blog. His comment was in reference to axiomatic mathematical poetry. However, I think his question is much broader.

Jonathan expressed the following:

Abraham, cats, Gods.

One, numbers, successors.

Which is really more poetic?

This is a sticky question because I want to avoid slipping into the bottomless void of the “What is poetry? What is art?” question However; I can discuss elements of poetry from which my idea of poetics is derived. I also want to add the following statements are not a value judgment on the aesthetics of mathematics. The mathematical aesthetic is one of the most wonderful experiences one may realize.

To answer Jonathans question; I am assuming that his question implies that pure mathematics is poetic. It is my view that pure mathematics is not poetic. Furthermore, the quick and dirty response to this question is that pure mathematics is different from poetics the same as pure mathematics is different from physics. Physics and Mathematical poetry, although vastly different, live in the realm of applied mathematics. Even when we ‘feel’ that pure mathematics is poetic, we are applying mathematics to some preconceived notion of what we believe poetry is without actually applying it. We may choose to argue that mathematics contains elements of poetry such as rhythm and pattern. Yet one may argue that it is not maths that has poetic elements but poetry that has mathematical elements. For the sake of argument, let us say that poetry possesses the mathematical element of pattern. I would like to make the point that it is difficult to get excited about these metric patterns when taken out of the context of poetry and view in only the light of mathematics. I know we are starting to get away from the intention of our question however, the point I want to make is that the aesthetics of mathematics is much different from the aesthetics of poetry and poetics. Thepolyaesthetic experience’ that we are discussing is a vector sum experience of the aesthetics of art/language poetry and the aesthetic of mathematics. (They are different aesthetics) If we were to separate the mathematical aesthetic from a language poem how beautiful is it? Now let us look at the aesthetics of mathematical pattern by comparing the beauty of the pattern in iambic pentameter (or any other meter for that matter) to the beauty of self-similar patterns in a mathematically generated fractal. Which is more beautiful? Is the ‘isolated’ metric pattern in poetry more beautiful than a fractal? How about asking, “Is the fractal poetic?” If so what are the elements of poetry in the fractal. Is it the concept of rhythm that makes maths poetic? Are all things displaying rhythm poetic? The point I am trying to produce is that mathematical poetry, makes the structure of mathematics poetic only by application of poetics within that structure. Pure mathematics is not poetic by itself.

When addressing the metric beauty in language poetry; the metric beauty is not relevant to the mathematical pattern per se. It is relevant to the aesthetics involved in the relationship of the pattern to the words and the sounds of the words with its synesthetic energy igniting the meaning of the words as they point further to the cultural and historical relationships within the poem. The mathematical aesthetic devoid of the poetic aesthetic plays an extremely limited role in the aesthetics of language poetry. Yes, there is maths in the poetry however, break it out of the poetry, isolate it and I believe it becomes aesthetically trivial.

Let us look at metaphor – Does pure mathematics express metaphor? How could it? for pure mathematics is more about illuminating the logical structure of thinking. The key word that I want to stress is “logical”. Metaphor requires logical tension if not paradox to function as a concept to bridge the infinite to the concrete. However, I must say that mathematics does provide us with the linguistic structure to express metaphor. Again, this is the issue of pure mathematics relative to applied mathematics. To express metaphor you have to have an application of poetic concepts. You need a source domain and a target domain. (see the section on metaphor structure at Wikipedia) Pure mathematics does not have these metaphoric domains until we apply the poetic idea to the structure of maths as we do in mathematical poetry. The essay “Polyaesthetics and mathematical poetry” goes into more detail on this matter as well as an interview conducted by poetic aesthetician Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino. The interview will soon be published at “word for/word” an online journal of new poetry. I hope to announce the interview soon at this blog.


Anonymous said...

poor poor chopin

Anonymous said...

Did you mean: poor poor shakespeare?

VizPo-Central said...

Interesting comments, Kaz. I would answer the question posed in fewer words, though--albeit dogmatically: poetry is art, mathematics science; the aim of art is beauty; of science, truth. There's no poetry in math except figuratively. Those who claim to have experienced it have not; what they have actually experienced, with possibly equal pleasure, is truth.

I also would dispute your contention that poetry is hard to define. My sound-bite definition of it is art which makes significant use of words and flow-breaks, as I call all gaps in in a text that wouldn't be there if the text was prose--lineation, for example. What is hard to define is effective poetry, which is what most people are speaking of when they say it can't be defined. (They seem to think that if a text someone tags "poetry" doesn't work for them, it isn't poetry, which is absurd.) Effective poetry, too, can be defined. Needless to say, I've done it myself--but at too great a length to post here.

Keep up the good work!

--Bob Grumman

Kaz Maslanka said...

Hi Bob,
Well your answer may be in fewer words and we all have our opinions about things however, there are many who would argue that art is much more than beauty and science has never proved anything to be true. Science history is littered with laws that get broken by the next generation of scientists. David Boehm says it best when he stated that science doesn’t look for truth its only interest is in correlating experience. Furthermore when it comes to art; the history books are filled with art having no intention of being beautiful. I think one may have a better argument stating that the aim of math is beauty and the aim of art is truth and there are plenty of texts out there that attempt illuminate these ideals. This also brings us to the statement that poetry is hard to define. Actually it is easy to define by one person (like yourself) however the problem is that everyone will argue with that person. I have watched you argue your case with the new-poetry group and there is little consensus in fact Marcus got kicked out of the group because he could not stand your definitions of poetry and behaved in such a manner that it got him removed. I am not saying that you are wrong I am just saying that as soon as someone defines art or poetry someone else comes along and creates a trend against it. (you should know you are the new one trying to redefine poetry) … bottom line is that defining things is easy getting everyone to buy into it for any period of time is the difficult part.
Thanks for your comment

Anonymous said...

The main problem is that Bob pursues the small truth, not Truth in
Its Absolute non changing form which is also Beauty in its Absolute
non changing form. however, this is Truth and Beauty we
can speak about. in their Truest form neither Truth nor Beauty can be
spoken of. They inhabit the realm of the Unspeakable as in
Taoism there is the Tao one can speak of and the Tao one can not
speak of.

scientists' efforts, in their best non politically charged
chambers, are practiced as if by contemporary yogis seeking the
Absolute outside themselves in the 10 directions. the seer poets seek the
Absolute follow the 11th direction, inward, whereby It is found.

Karl Kempton

Derek said...

To me poetry and pure mathematics are opposite and thence absurdly closely related.

I suppose the goal of the poet may be to use words in such a way as to give a feeling, or experience that cannot be put into words. The poet's goal is to give someone else their feeling.

The mathematican translates theorems into mental thought, derives something from them (often with assistence of computers or some haphazard notation), and then she translates her derivation back into a theorem/corollary. I suppose her goal may be to preserve truth.

If I may continue with my nonsense...

the poet trys to maintain genuine essence through translation so that such essence is recieved accurately.

The poet does not disregard truth, but instead gives the readers the opportunity of attaching their own truth to the art.

the mathematician trys to maintain truth through translation so that the truth is recieved accurately.

The mathematician does not disregard essence, but instead gives other mathematicians the opportunity of experiencing different essences.

If it weren't for poets attaching their own truths to poems I don't think poetry would survive as an art and if it weren't for mathematicians finding essence and feeling in mathematics I don't think it'd survive.

Kaz Maslanka said...

Thanks for you comment Derek.
I must say that the questions have haunted me and still do to so degree however, I believe that I have missed the boat in this little essay. First of all I now believe that pure math does express metaphor although I don't believe it expresses poetic metaphor. In addition I now believe that the main concepts that divides these two realms are the concepts of universal and cultural. Mathematics is universal and art/poetry is cultural. I will expand these ideas in further blog entries in the future.
Thanks again for you comments.

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