I must confess this blog has evolved from its original intent to document musings on science, math, and music to more reflections of an outsider plunged into Winnipeg.
I actually did attempt to write an essay about a math paper, but in the paper’s co-author’s words, it was fittingly incomplete, as I referenced Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem in my philosophical rant about the beauty of mathematics. Let me tell you how it happened.
After writing some about how satisfying string theory is for its intrinsic self-consistencies, and that regardless of whether our universe is governed by these extra dimensional principles, the theory yields a comprehensive self-consistent set of principles with useful advancements in nuclear physics, condensed matter physics, and mathematics, I then rambled about mathematics. In math you start with a theorem which you might be able to prove. The theorem and its proof represent a truth that a new experiment can’t expropriate. Of course, when relating this newly found ideological satisfaction with mathematics compared to most physics I’ve explored with a mathematics professor and friend, she informed me of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. This theorem states that you can write an axiom which is true about the natural numbers but which is unprovable. Perfection, I suppose, is elusive in any field, but, at the end of the day, or rather a proof, in mathematics, you might not have fundamentally changed your view of the universe, but at least you know you have unearthed a truth, something which cannot be expunged.
If perfection in science or mathematics is lacking, it is certainly lacking in humanity in all our glorious flaws. After many tense weeks which manifested in physical pain, Andrew and I decided we needed some comedy and attended a play, Alan Ayckbourn’s Confusions performed by the Shoestring Players, in which my friend was acting.
What a comedy of human flaws, errors, dysfunctional relationships, painful lonely isolation, desperation, lack of companionship, and disconnected people. It was an opera of quarreling couples. The spouse confessing infidelity to her husband while the waiter asked if the husband would like potatoes, he in abstract torment about the security of his job, as his wife had bedded his boss. The boss tenderly reading the menu to his suspecting wife who had forgotten her reading glasses. The wife who confronts her husband, the boss, and starts a scene in the restaurant where both couples eat. The mother who won’t answer the phone calls from her husband who is traveling and unsuccessfully attempting to seduce women. There is one scene where the boss’s wife is supposed to deliver an address at a fund raiser, she is disarranged from being misdirected to a plow field by children, she tries to speak into the microphone, a drunken fiance sings camp songs after his beloved’s infidelity was accidentally broadcasted for all to hear by the speakers, tea pours onto the sound system, the boss’s wife is electrocuted, and everything disintegrates into chaos. It was a disaster, a microcosm of human failings.
I didn’t relate to the characters in the first four one act plays, but the fifth one resonated a bit with me. It centered on five people sitting on four park benches. Each of the four people situated on the four benches desired privacy and solitude. The fifth person sat on the first bench and tried to strike up a conversation. When the already seated person became disrupted enough by the unhappy monologue, they would move to the next park bench and confess their story. It was about people desperately trying to share their stories, to connect, to feel heard. It was about ignoring the pain of others, something we all do at times. The last line of the play encapsulated the frustration of the individuals, that “you might as well talk to yourself.” In my case, I like talking to myself, or rather writing to myself.
The acting was clear with objectives, obstacles, and tactics, the British accents believable. Freud would say we succumbed to the pleasure principle, by taking pleasure in the confusing comedic pain of the characters. It was an exaggeration, a hyperbole, of those day-to-day disconnects we might have with people in our lives, perhaps not with our spouses, but with other people in our circles. And even if we can’t relate to the flaws in these characters, we all have our own flaws and imperfections, which, in comparison to the characters, might seem okay. We’re not perfect, life is not perfect, but neither is mathematics nor physics, so maybe it’s all good.