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Love and Tensor Algebra -- Stanislaw Lem

Guest poem sent in by Jedrek Burakiewicz
(Poem #1205) Love and Tensor Algebra
 Come, let us hasten to a higher plane
 Where dyads tread the fairy fields of Venn,
 Their indices bedecked from one to n
 Commingled in an endless Markov chain!

 Come, every frustum longs to be a cone
 And every vector dreams of matrices.
 Hark to the gentle gradient of the breeze:
 It whispers of a more ergodic zone.

 In Riemann, Hilbert or in Banach space
 Let superscripts and subscripts go their ways.
 Our asymptotes no longer out of phase,
 We shall encounter, counting, face to face.

 I'll grant thee random access to my heart,
 Thou'lt tell me all the constants of thy love;
 And so we two shall all love's lemmas prove,
 And in our bound partition never part.

 For what did Cauchy know, or Christoffel,
 Or Fourier, or any Boole or Euler,
 Wielding their compasses, their pens and rulers,
 Of thy supernal sinusoidal spell?

 Cancel me not - for what then shall remain?
 Abscissas some mantissas, modules, modes,
 A root or two, a torus and a node:
 The inverse of my verse, a null domain.

 Ellipse of bliss, converge, O lips divine!
 the product of four scalars it defines!
 Cyberiad draws nigh, and the skew mind
 Cuts capers like a happy haversine.

 I see the eigenvalue in thine eye,
 I hear the tender tensor in thy sigh.
 Bernoulli would have been content to die,
 Had he but known such a^2 cos 2 phi!
-- Stanislaw Lem
         (translated by Michael Kandel)

Above is a poem taken from Stanislaw Lem's book 'Cyberiad'. It is what
you are given when you ask Electronic Bard (an ultimate poem writing
machine) to write a 'love poem, lyrical, pastoral, and expressed
in the language of pure mathematics. Tensor algebra mainly, with a
little topology and higher calculus, if need be. But with feeling, you
understand, and in the cybernetic spirit'. It is the only known to me
example of using mathematical language in literature, especially to
express love.

And even without understanding most words one can feel their intended
meaning, which is a great achievement of Michael Kandel, the translator
of the poem (and most books of Lem). I happen to be Polish, and in
Polish writes Stanislaw Lem, so I know the poem much better in
original. And I must admit that translation is great - even if
mathematical expressions used are completely different it doesn't
matter, because the feeling I get while reading it in English remains
the same. It has something to do with futuristic poems from 20's, in
which more important from the meaning was how the words sounded and
'felt like'.

As for Lem's books in general, he is a science fiction writer, but it
would be more appropriate to name what he writes a 'philosophical
fiction'. In none of his books (save some very early ones, perhaps) is
the technology a main subject - it only serves as a background to
create moral or philosophical problems. 'Cyberiad' is a very good
example for this. By creating a world of robots and machines (which, by
the way, is not a result of a 'machine rebellion', it just is so) Lem
describes, among many other things, how virtues known to us like Good,
Justice etc. don't change despite of the surrounding world. Yet it is
not given to the reader in a "Star Wars" way, black and white, there
are no Good Rebels and Evil Empire, everything is relative. And,
besides, written with brilliant sense of humour.

You might have seen 'Solaris' in cinema recently - it is based on a
book by Lem, but don't rely on the film - it doesn't have that much to
do with the book, at least from my point of view. I liked the book very
much and was very bored while watching the film - unfortunately Steven
Soderbergh eliminated almost everything valuable from the book, leaving
only the love story and changing the ending completely (killing the
meaning of the book). If you haven't seen the film and haven't read the
book yet - rather read the book. It is not the funny part of Lem's
writing, but rather sad and depressing, yet wonderful.

Jedrek

[Martin adds]

If you haven't read Lem's magnificently quirky 'Cyberiad', I would like
to strongly second Jedrek's recommendation. The only thing I've read
that comes close to it in spirit is St. Exupery's "The Little Prince"
(another unmissable classic).

r = a^2 cos(2.phi) is, disappointingly, not a cardioid (a heart-shaped
curve) - I was expecting the pun. It seems instead to be a rather
pretty four-petalled flower shape - think two figure-8s at right angles
to each other, sharing a central point (I guess you could call it a variant on
the lemniscate - is there a more specific term for this particular curve? I
have
the feeling I'm missing some clever mathematical pun here).

Euler/ruler is an eye rhyme, of course ('Euler' is properly pronounced
'Oiler'),
but nevermind :)

martin

Links:
  Biography:
   http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/slem.htm

  We ran a brief theme on the poetry of mathematics a while ago:
    Poem #599, Poem #601 and Poem #604

50 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Raj said...

On Mon, 24 Mar 2003, Martin Julian DeMello wrote:
> You might have seen 'Solaris' in cinema recently - it is based on a
> book by Lem, but don't rely on the film - it doesn't have that much to

Just saw the old 'Solaris' movie (Russian, 1972, by Andrei Tarkovsky) this
Sunday. It starts out being a bit slow, but then, you can't help being
gripped by the moral and philosophical questions being discussed and which
the film throws up. What is life? How do we define an alien life? Are we
really ready for the Contact? How does a Reality and identity get
generated? One of the most beautiful SF movies I have seen.

Unfortunately, this category of superlative films, which I term as
'serious contemplative SF' gets very little exposure. They are dismissed
by 'normal' movie audiences as sci-fi, and by sci-fi fans as being too
serious. Some others which are my favorites include AI and Gattaca.

Raj

Jedrek Burakiewicz said...

1. a^2 cos 2 phi does not appear in original version of poem, there are no
functions in it at all. But it is possible that Kandel might have added
something. But I couldn't find anything either (note for people not
knowing mathematical computer notation: a^2 means 'a square').

2. Lem said that he hates Tarkovsky's version and never saw the whole of
it, accusing the director of completely misunderstanding him. I haven't
seen it by myself, so I can't say anything except that you have to read
the book to know.

3. There is a very good official Lem website, also in English, www.lem.pl
Apart form many information on Lem himself you can find there parts of his
books, including a part of 'Cyberiad' 'How the World was Saved'.

4. Other Lem's books especially worth reading: 'Fiasco' (caution:
extremely depressing), 'His Master's Voice', 'Star Diaries'.

Steve Chernicoff said...

I was quite charmed by the Stanislaw Lem poem "Love and Tensor Algebra,"
submitted by Jedrek Burakiewicz. I do, however, want to point out a few
minor pedantic quibbles (for which Jedrek can be forgiven, since English is
not his first language):

: Come, every frustrum longs to be a cone
^^^^^^^^
The word is "frustum," not "frustrum": the portion of a cone or pyramid
that remains if you lop off its point. This is a common error, probably
influenced by the more common English word "frustrate."

: Thou'lt tell me all the constants of thy love;
: And so we two shall all love's lemmas prove,

An allusion to Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love":

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove...

: For what did Cauchy know, or Christoffel,
: Or Fourier, or any Bools or Euler,
^^^^^ ^^^^^
: Wielding their compasses, their pens and rulers,
: Of thy supernal sinusoidal spell? ^^^^^^

"Bools" appears to be a typo or misspelling for George Boole, the
nineteenth-century English mathematician who invented a system of "logical
algebra" for manipulating propositional truth values (still referred to in
modern computer science as "Boolean values").

And as Martin correctly points out, "Euler" and "ruler" don't really rhyme,
since "Euler" (Leonhard Euler, eighteenth-century Swiss/German
mathematician) is properly pronounced "Oiler."

: the product o four scalars is defines!
^ ^^
Obviously a typo for "the product of four scalars it defines."

In answer to Jedrek's comment,

: It is the only known to me example of using mathematical language in
: literature....

I offer the following original effort of my own, which I composed many
years ago. The names of the letters psi, phi, and xi are, of course,
intended to be given their proper Greek pronunciations (rhyming with
English "tree" rather than "try"). With apologies to Joyce Kilmer
(Minstrels #146):

Psi's

I think that I shall never see
A letter lovely as a psi,
Which thrusts its base below the line
And lifts its pitchfork for a sign.

A psi that may at some times wear
A bar or tilde in its hair--
That bears exponents gracefully
And intimately lives with phi.

Psi's can be writ by fools like me,
But only Greeks can make a xi.

Cheers--

--Steve

========================================================================
| | |
| Steve Chernicoff | We shall not cease from exploration, |
| 1114 Hillview Road | And the end of all our exploring |
| Berkeley, California 94708 | Will be to arrive where we started |
| | And know the place for the first time. |
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========================================================================

Liana said...

On Mon, Mar 24, 2003 at 08:46:35AM -0800, Martin Julian DeMello wrote:
> r = a^2 cos(2.phi) is, disappointingly, not a cardioid (a heart-shaped
> curve) - I was expecting the pun. It seems instead to be a rather
> pretty four-petalled flower shape - think two figure-8s at right angles
> to each other, sharing a central point (I guess you could call it a variant on
> the lemniscate - is there a more specific term for this particular curve? I
> have
> the feeling I'm missing some clever mathematical pun here).

If it is, in fact, intended to be a LEMniscate, the obvious-to-me pun might
have to do with the author, rather than the subject matter. And it would
certainly explain the mention of Bernoulli in the line just above it.
(Bernoulli's lemniscate is, of course, 2-petaled, being r^2=a^2cos(2theta).
But I suppose phi rhymes better than theta...).

Liana

Martin DeMello said...

--- Liana wrote:
> If it is, in fact, intended to be a LEMniscate, the obvious-to-me pun might
> have to do with the author, rather than the subject matter. And it would
> certainly explain the mention of Bernoulli in the line just above it.
> (Bernoulli's lemniscate is, of course, 2-petaled, being r^2=a^2cos(2theta).
> But I suppose phi rhymes better than theta...).

Excellent point - and the Bernoulli reference is, as you say, a very suggestive
hint.

martin

viagra online pharmacy said...

What a strange poem! I love it's bizarre theme and its catchy Rhythm, simply awesome.

Anonymous said...

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