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August 21, 2013 4:02 PM   Subscribe

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posted by rlk at 4:12 PM on August 21, 2013

not your father's George Gamow
posted by thelonius at 4:38 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

You reminded me that I never finished his novel Mathematicians in Love.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:22 PM on August 21, 2013

When I was a kid, my father, who's a mathematician, gave me a copy of Gamow's One Two Three... Infinity (as well as several books of Martin Gardner's Mathematical Games) and I have given him more recently Rucker's books, including the memoir Nested Scrolls.
posted by larrybob at 5:23 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Rudy is awesome. Reading these right now.
posted by kenlayne at 6:45 PM on August 21, 2013

Oh yeah, I have been reading the crap out of those essays. Also he released a page of all his short stories, I've even linked to bits of it quite often inline in MeFi conversations.

But the hell with all that. Check it out: I just discovered he released a scan of the intro to his book "Speculations on the Fourth Dimension: Selected Writings of Charles. H. Hinton." I have been looking for that book for ages and ages, ever since I discovered it back in the early 1980s, shortly after it went out of print.

Hinton is a source that a lot of his other works evolved from. Rudy wrote several early short stories that are parodies or direct quotes of Hinton's book titles, like "A New Golden Age" (Hinton's "A New Era of Thought") and "The Fourth Dimension." But the only explicit reference I could ever locate was his brief description of Hinton's exercises to visualize a hypercube, he described it as "a prescription for insanity." I never forgot that phrase. So yeah, I want a dose of this prescription.

It took me a long time to locate a copy of Hinton's The Fourth Dimension, but this was the days before the internet (before Compuserve even). I finally found it through the fringe crackpot bookseller Health Research Books. I received a cheaply xeroxed plastic-ring bound copy, with OMG color xeroxes of the rare illustrations. I have been unable to locate an online copy of The Fourth Dimension with the color illustrations intact, I suspect this is the sort of thing that library thieves have ripped off, long before the libraries ever let Google Books scan them. But anyway, here is a PDF of The Fourth Dimension. Now just skim through that and look at the illustrations. And then consider that this is a popularized, simplified version of his more complex 4th dimensional thinking exercises in A New Era of Thought. Let's start there.

Go to page 135, a chapter entitled "Representation of Three-Space by Names, and in a Plane." Hinton maps a block of cubes, a 3D cube subdivided into 3x3, 4x4, 5x5, like a Rubik's Cube. The exercises are to visualize the faces of the cubes in colors. But not just the outside faces like a Rubik's Cube, all the faces, including the ones facing inward. And to help you remember them, there is a complex mnemonic of names given to these colors: olus, via, ilex, semita, mel, callis, lama, iter, sors, bucina, alvus, arctos, it goes on and on. I wish you could see the crude, misregistered color illustrations in my photocopy edition of The Fourth Dimension, they are marvelous. Now you can't just visualize the cubes, you have to visualize them rotating, reflecting, etc. and then understand their new positions. He gives mnemonic formulas for visualizing these transforms (New Era, p143) like "Mars Mala, Ala Mala, Sector Mala; Merces Mala, Cortis Mala, Hama Mala; Tyro Mala, Aer Mala, Remus Mala." This isn't math, this is an incantation, a prescription for insanity. And we haven't even examined Hintons transforms of tetrahedrons etc. Let's not. I have, in some detail. I have made a deliberate effort to forget it.

Anyway.. I love Rudy's work, but I'm especially fond of his earliest works. I have a first edition of White Light, with the legendary xeroxed letter by John Shirley, he sent a hundred copies to various reviewers and encouraged them to check out this new thing called Cyberpunk. And Spacetime Donuts is a cyberpunk masterpiece. I always wanted to make a computer graphics-based film of Spacetime Donuts. And I wrote a story on my blog about how I gave up because the computer graphics systems I could access in the 80s (even my friend's Cray X-MP) were incapable of doing it justice. But maybe there were people that could make the film, someday. So I told Katherine Bigelow that she should make it into a film. Eventually Rudy did get a movie deal, but not from Bigelow. So I wrote this all up into one of my crazier articles ever. Oh the range it has, it even describes how I tried to propose to a girlfriend by giving her a copy of Rudy's "The Secret of Life," and then she never read it and she ran off with some other guy with my copy of the book. I lamented that Rudy's movie (like my proposal) would never get off the ground, the movie would get "put into turnaround." Much to my surprise, Rudy replied to my blog, and after some intermittent correspondence over the years, he wrote his own story of the movie deal and admitted it got put into turnaround and the movie will never be made.

My strange article goes on to describe how I have been trying to make a CG image of an idea that came to me in a dream after I read Spacetime Donuts, a complex 3D animation with a fractal structure. Since I wrote that article in 2004, I have occasionally tried to make that image in Maya, and it absolutely defies the ability of any computer I run it on. Its fractal structure absolutely defies the computing capacity of any render farm, and in fact, the computing capacity of all computers ever made and that ever will be made into the foreseeable future, even rendering it only a few levels deep into the fractal structure. I completely gave up on doing it as anything but a still image, just forget animation.

I can describe the image in words, and I can even sketch the basic idea on paper. But I cannot render it digitally, not even if I turned all the matter and energy in the nearby universe into a huge computer. And that's one of the themes of Rudy's books, especially White Light. We can visualize infinite things in our mind, even though our mind is finite.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:34 PM on August 21, 2013 [9 favorites]

Wow, charlie, you were paying attention and remembered, but our stories start very similarly. I got The Fourth Dimension from my dad, and thought it was so cool I brought it to University and lent it to a friend. It never came back, and when I tried to replace it, the thing just seemed to not exist anywhere anymore.

But then I forgot, while you remembered. Carry that torch dude! Excellent!
posted by Meatbomb at 8:20 PM on August 21, 2013

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