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Hilbert's 24th problem

     How does one get the job done with the maximum impact and the minimum number of words?  How does one know whether a short sentence is more complex than a longer, somehow boring sentence?  Does mere factual understanding have anything at all to do with the experience of profundity or art, or is the writer's craft more tied to a manufactured, or induced psychological feeling, an emotional experience that substitutes for actual understanding?   We obviously do not get huge rewards (most of us) from reading a good mathematical theorem.  It fails to satisfy  us, I think, for all the wrong reasons, and puts into suspicion those literary efforts which, like fatty foods, seem to nourish our very souls. This is somewhat unfair, since most of us are not highly trained to read a theorem richly and deeply.  At least I imagine such a reading is possible, say by Roger Penrose.  But for the rest of us, I keep coming back to the idea that the quintessential reading experience is this: "Boy, we are really on to something now!"  The less well defined, the more powerful this feeling often is.
     So the author's work is largely legerdemain.  It is work nonetheless to envision, make consistent, propose, reveal, control dynamically, and then exit gracefully from a constructed universe that is more rewarding than the fragments of reality we individually perceive.  Every novel is in some sense a "Reality Reconfigured 2.0" simulation for our "thinking meat" brains to ingest
     The very least we can derive from Hilbert is his insistence on defining a problem to be solved, whether with words or mathematics.  If the proof of the fiction be incomplete, we will never judge the work as "whole."


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Sep. 17th, 2008 02:45 pm (UTC)
Thus, I think it is often misleading to say we understand literature when we grasp the "facts" of the exposition, or the structure of the literary work, or the social context. That stuff can be quite boring if it exists too far from our personal core. Perhaps it is more meaningful to note how many satisfying mental "burps" we experience in reflection, and what those burps mean to us individually.
Of course, we have crossed a line from scholar to self-interested, or subjective reader here, a line which I admit I have already crossed, much to my delight after discovering no border guards posted here.

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
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