Nancy Willard Meets Douglas Hofstadter
September 13, 2003 7:51 PM   Subscribe

"At the center of the universe is a horribly wounded angel. It is nothing anyone would call conscious, and is only in the barest, barest sense of the word still alive. If anything resembling awareness remains, that awareness consists of nothing but an infinite field of gridded black and white squares, a test pattern scattered with dancing dots that shift and jump and blur into one another. This test pattern is useful. " This piece of fiction, which appears on kuro5hin, evokes echoes of Douglas Hoftsadter (Godel, Escher, Bach) and Nancy Willard (Things Invisible To See, Sister Water , and lots of children's books) simultaneously. [more inside]
posted by weston (11 comments total)
I don't frequent kuro5hin, but I do visit once in a while because even though the normal amateur content isn't what I enjoy or find informative, there are gems there from time to time. This is the first piece of fiction that I've noticed in that way. While I'm sure it will not be for everyone, I'm darn impressed.

Op Ed news coverage, personal journals/narratives/weblogs, humor sites, and a number of similar formats seem to be a dime a dozen (though there are some very good ones out there). This variety/quality of fiction on the web is new to me. What else is out there?
posted by weston at 7:56 PM on September 13, 2003

This variety/quality of fiction on the web is new to me. What else is out there?

this is turning out to be a well-written knee-slapper.
posted by quonsar at 8:43 PM on September 13, 2003

Wow, that was a pretty good short story, have to wonder how much anime the author has watched though. I liked the long sentences, repetition, and technical way it was written (DF Wallace influence?). But is it named after a Sarah McLachlan song? Like tacky.

And the "tips" in the comments for that story seem a little dubious to me.
posted by bobo123 at 9:25 PM on September 13, 2003

Awesome story.

Does anyone know if this part is actually true:
Here is the truly maddening thing about the NP-hard problems: if someone, anyone, could find one really ingenious way of solving an NP-hard problem-- any of them-- where the difficulty with scale became more complicated just polynomially, rather than exponentially, then they could all be solved that way....

This is not an exact description of what happened. It is, however, something very similar. The essence is this: there exist homomorphisms by which any decision can be described perfectly as a scenario in Go.
The first part I've heard about before... equivalence of NP-hard problems. The second part... well, I can believe that Go is NP-hard, the question that I have is whether or not people have actually been mapping NP-hard problems from one problem space to Go. Anyone know?

Something else: it's interesting to watch people go all grammar nazi on the author in the posts. I'm not an English major, but I don't see any big problems with his grammar or presentation.
posted by namespan at 9:25 PM on September 13, 2003

That last amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity - the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes.

H.P. Lovecraft, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
posted by SPrintF at 11:12 PM on September 13, 2003

i'm ready to send a rescue team out to save that angel.
thanks, weston.
posted by amberglow at 11:29 PM on September 13, 2003

Great! It could use perhaps a little tweaking, and I have to agree that the title doesn't do it justice, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

As for other efforts on the web, here's a short (short) story I particularly like, from East of the Web, a site featuring stories in various categories, with comments and ratings.

I will also mention that I love the short-short form, and that I think it was a lovely idea to post this here, weston. Thanks.
posted by taz at 11:39 PM on September 13, 2003

namespan: If you have a P algorithm for one NP-hard problem you have a P algorithm for all NP problems (not just the NP-hard ones). But don't be confused, not all NP problems are necessarily NP-hard. (more info about the definitions on the ever reliable Mathworld)
posted by fvw at 8:41 AM on September 14, 2003

namespan: taken literally, it's clearly not possible because a go board has a finite size.

even for an infinite board (it's not clear to me that you can define go on such a board because i can't see how the players can - rationally - decide who has won) i'm sure no-one has done this. however, you can imagine a route for which some previous work might exist: you've got a cellular automaton of sorts; you could probably get that to simulate a turing machine; if there's a turing machine interpreter for lambda calculus then you're more or less home and dry :o)

[as for the story - the tricky bit, it seems to me, is to write something like that in a way that keeps it interesting even if someone already understands the ideas involved. after the first few paragraphs it slams into a different gear (as it introduces np) - from that point on, if you already know the theory, you can pretty much guess the rest.]
posted by andrew cooke at 11:36 AM on September 14, 2003

nope. ignore that waffle. it's ass-backwards and also wrong.

i'm not sure how you'd do the mapping. i guess you might start by looking at the correspondence between the halting problem and deciding who will win a game (on an infinite borad - that bit, at least, seems more-or-less correct; actually a board whose size is related to the program whose termination you're predicting, i would guess). sounds completely impossible.
posted by andrew cooke at 12:01 PM on September 14, 2003

arggh -- andrew and fvw, I'm only absorbing half of what you're saying because I napped during my foundations of computer science classes and am only shallowly familiar with the terminology. I'd like to wrap my head around the stuff more deeply -- can you suggest a good book?
posted by namespan at 11:39 PM on September 14, 2003

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