July 20, 2019

"... and while she endures their pranks and shares meals with them, she invents a secret friend. This friend is, curiously, distant and hidden..."

"... a friend who she hopes will be revealed to her one day. She has made up a friend who won’t keep her company."

Imagine being snubbed by your friends, creating an imaginary friend, and being snubbed by your imaginary friend! (Or is that easy to imagine: It's religion.)

I'm reading "The Weil Conjectures" by Karen Olsson.

I noticed that book because of "Two Brilliant Siblings and the Curious Consolations of Math," a review in the NYT. Excerpt:
The precocity of the Weil siblings is the stuff of legend. At 9 years old, André was tinkering with doctoral-level math. By 12, he had taught himself Sanskrit, become a proficient violinist and taken his younger sister’s education in hand. The pair spoke to each other in rhyming couplets and Ancient Greek....

“The Weil Conjectures” takes its title from a series of propositions written by André that led to the development of modern algebraic geometry. “The word ‘conjecture’ derives from a root notion of throwing or casting things together,” Olsson writes. To the story of the Weil siblings, she adds her own infatuation with mathematics, which she studied briefly in college before turning to fiction...

The book advances in fragments, historical divagations that drift by, smoothly as clouds: Hippasus of Metapontum supposedly flung off a ship for his discovery of irrational numbers, or the unearthing of the Rhind papyrus of 1700 B.C., one of the oldest mathematical documents, with an insuperable opening line: “Directions for Attaining the Knowledge of All Dark Things.” Olsson is drawn to anecdotes that emphasize the role of beauty and chance. Why do we represent the unknown with x? Credit René Descartes’s printer, who was running out of letters while producing copies of the treatise “La Géométrie.” X, y and z remained, and the printer settled on x, the least used letter in French....

For all of Olsson’s skill at untangling knotty mathematics, she is baffled by Simone.... The issue of Weil’s mental state has long preoccupied and divided her biographers. She died at 34, from tuberculosis, aggravated, it is said, by prolonged malnutrition from restricting herself to children’s wartime rations....

69 comments:

Mr. Forward said...

Hippasus of Metapontum
Declared rational verboten
Flung off the ship
He still gave them lip
Until he reached the bontum

rhhardin said...

There used to be courses called poets' physics, satisfying the science requirement for a liberal arts degree. I think they actually had some physics in them though.

Darrell said...

Why does Simone even factor into the story? Is it a "girl power" thing? Would his distinguished career in mathematics have not occurred if she were never born. Or never died?

AllenS said...

War is hell, I guess.

Temujin said...

Fascinating. I just might have to read this. And of course, I'll add it to the 20 other books in waiting on my Kindle, I'll purchase it through the Althouse portal. Goes without saying.

Thanks for the tip. Reading another interesting book now...The History of the Future. Also available on the...ah...you know the drill.

Ann Althouse said...

"Why does Simone even factor into the story? Is it a "girl power" thing? Would his distinguished career in mathematics have not occurred if she were never born. Or never died?"

I'll have to tell you after I finished the book. Olsson is riffing off a number of things and making herself part of the story. It's not a normal biography. It's an unusual collection of things. I admire the effort and the writing style is very cool. I like things that are interesting on a sentence-by-sentence level, and this really fits that preference for me. I'm not fixated on "the story."

Darrell said...

If I write a biography of Julius Caesar should I try to find a sister in his family? The bios I've read never mentioned any, that I recall. That seems to be a glaring omission.

dustbunny said...

Wasn’t Simone under consideration for sainthood? If I remember correctly, she had a mystical experience while visiting Assisi, converted to Catholicism and after her death had miracles attributed to her. She was a fascinating and highly contradictory character.

Ann Althouse said...

One answer to your question, Darrell, might be that Olsson is somewhat like Simone in that she was interested in math but knew she could not do it at the highest level and moved — as many smart women do — into the humanities.

rhhardin said...

I like things that are interesting on a sentence-by-sentence level, and this really fits that preference for me. I'm not fixated on "the story."

Derrida, The Post Card.

rhhardin said...

Simone (2002)
A producer's film is endangered when his star walks off, so he decides to digitally create an actress to substitute for the star, becoming an overnight sensation that everyone thinks is a real person.

rhhardin said...

interested in math but knew she could not do it at the highest level and moved — as many smart women do — into the humanities.

They're not obsessed enough to do it at the highest level. The social price isn't justified for them. They're smart enough.

Fernandistein said...

Olsson is drawn to anecdotes

That's bad.

that emphasize the role of beauty and chance.

That's also bad.

Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray

"A contrarian argues that modern physicists' obsession with beauty has given us wonderful math but bad science"

Math gets uglier as it gets closer to approximating reality.

Ficta said...

Simone Weil and Andre Weil were siblings?!? I had no idea. Both are well known in their respective fields. Sounds like a great book. I'll have to add it to my impossible list of books to get around to.

Darrell said...

If this were the Marvel Universe, André could have stolen Simone's mathematical superpower and used it for his own brilliant career, leaving her an empty math-deficient shell. No wonder she was depressed. The Patriarchy is always holding women down.

madAsHell said...

x, the least used letter in French....

I remember when my 9th grade science teacher solemnly told the class the fuck was an acronym. Fully elaborated, the acronym was; For Unlawful Common Knowledge. She said it was shortened to FUCK so that it could be written on the stock of the adulterer in the public square.

My German teacher slapped that notion out of my head!!

madAsHell said...

that fuck!!.....not the fuck!! WTF???

madAsHell said...

Carnal, not Common!!

Doesn't anybody prof read this shit anymore!! covfeffe!!

rhhardin said...

Arithmetic! Algebra! Geometry! Grand trinity! Luminous triangle! He who has not known you is a dolt! He deserves the test of the greatest tortures, for in his ignorant thoughtlessness there is blind contempt. But he who knows and appreciates you wants naught else of the world's chattels; is content with your magical ecstasies; and, borne on your sombre wings, desires nothing more than to rise in gentle flight, describing an ascendant helix, toward the spherical vault of the heavens. Earth shows him only illusions and moral phantasmagorias, but you, O concise mathematics, by the rigorous series of your tenacious propositions and the constancy of your iron laws, dazzle the eyes, shining forth a powerful reflection of that supreme truth whose imprint is discernible in the order of the universe.

- Lautreamont

Sebastian said...

"somewhat like Simone in that she was interested in math but knew she could not do it at the highest level"

Does she even understand the problems Andre solved and the new ideas he produced?

Crazy Jane said...

Congratulation to Prof. Althouse. It takes an intrepid and long-suffering soul to find something worth reading in the NY Times book pages.

On the plus side, the Sunday book review section, which includes often-gushy interviews with prominent authors (many of them celebrities,) makes an excellent soporific.

rcocean said...

In 1936, despite her professed pacifism, she travelled to the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side, and joined the anarchist columns of Buenaventura Durruti. She even took a rifle,


She was a Marxist/Communist. And then become a Anarchist. AND THEN..."She had another, more powerful, revelation a year later while reciting George Herbert's poem Love III, after which "Christ himself came down and took possession of me",[42] and, from 1938 on, her writings became more mystical and spiritual, while retaining their focus on social and political issues."

Tommy Duncan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rcocean said...

She was, in other words, Crazy. Its amazing how much damage an unbalanced mind, combined with great intellect can do. They can think up any old Bullshit and get people to believe or take is seriously.

Tommy Duncan said...

"Imagine being snubbed by your friends, creating an imaginary friend, and being snubbed by your imaginary friend!"

"I tell ya, I don't get no respect. I'm so ugly. My father carries around the picture of the kid who came with his wallet." ---Rodney Dangerfield

Howard said...

We men have 3.3-million years of evolution in STEM, hunting, fishing, arts crafts, etc. and the Althousian Trump cucks continue to beat their chests about how superior men are to dumb broads because they haven't caught up yet in 3-generations.

mtrobertslaw said...

Plato was fascinated by Mathematics. He thought it offered a way for humans to become aware of a transcendent reality beyond the illusions given to us by of a world trapped in matter, space and time.

Tom T. said...

Wait, so which one of them was the imaginary one?

JML said...

"Math class is tough!"

- Barbie, 1992

madAsHell said...

she adds her own infatuation with mathematics, which she studied briefly in college before turning to fiction...

infatuation....studied briefly.....before turning to fiction. Sort of like damning with faint praise.

Christy said...

Why is the kindle >$3 more than the hardback? Intriguing as the book sounds, the pricing angers me so much there is no way I'll buy it. Angers me so much I'll never return to this thread. Or at least not until I calm down. I hate being insane.

narciso said...

Btw derruti was the one of the surnames of the Dutch folksinger would be icebomber.

narciso said...

The first rule of anarchists, is they are often crushed, Russia Spain the us, in the formed ths social revolutionaries did become part of the provisional govt for a time

traditionalguy said...

Simone Weil is not mentioned in Andre Weil's lengthy Wiki page. He was an elite Professor and theoretical mathematician lived to 92. I suppose the mathematicians writing about him thought little of Simone who lived to 34. But her Wiki page described her leading an exciting life, including that , " Christ himself came down and took possession of me." After that she was leaning Catholic, but refused Baptism.

That sounds like many Messianic Jews. The Holy Spirit deals with them one on one.

Martha said...

Blogger Christy said...
Why is the kindle >$3 more than the hardback?

Kindle $13.99
Hardcover $23.75

Math is hard.

traditionalguy said...

Simone Weil's early death was not caused by eating too little.That was a cover story for the British Health Service's denial of penecillen to treat a Jew. She had been a war hero , but she got the type of shoddy treatment that the American VA gave our heroes before the dawning of the Age of Trump.

Resist single payer Nationalized Health Care demanded by all 24 Dems. It is designed to kill you by that same shoddy treatment.

rcocean said...

"That was a cover story for the British Health Service's denial of penecillen to treat a Jew. She had been a war hero"

Got any proof that she was denied treatment by penicillin because she was a Jew? And she was a "war hero"? Which war?

narciso said...

I don't see that here:

https://www.iep.utm.edu/weil/

Bob said...

What a provocative statement (i.e., meant to provoke): "Imagine being snubbed by your friends, creating an imaginary friend, and being snubbed by your imaginary friend! (Or is that easy to imagine: It's religion.)"
Have to think about that one. (You succeeded in provoking!)

Mark said...

There's nothing provocative about it. It is standard gratuitous hate.

Ann Althouse said...

“Why is the kindle >$3 more than the hardback? Intriguing as the book sounds, the pricing angers me so much there is no way I'll buy it. Angers me so much I'll never return to this thread. Or at least not until I calm down. I hate being insane.”

I’m seeing it $10 cheaper.

My question is why no audiobook. I’m a walking reader when it comes to books and prefer to buy the Kindle and add the audio.

Yancey Ward said...

Simone Weil was the kind of girl that would lay in the middle of deserted desert road at night.

Narr said...

Lay or lie, Yancey@1205?

I'm curious about what Mark@1046 said, about a remark (which I had trouble parsing at first) he describes as hate. I have a problem with that, the same problem I have when womyn describe pornography as misogyny (i.e. a form of hatred). It just doesn't fit, in my experience; my attitudes toward porn and religion are not what womyn or the pious ascribe.

The Prof's remark strikes me as, at worst, rude towards the feelings of the religious, but hate?

Narr
I'll check in later, life beckons

buwaya said...

Durruti was a magnetic figure.
A bit of a cult leader, a sort of a political bandit, and apparently very attractive to women.
To be fair to the fellow he believed in what he was selling, courted personal risk in everything, took his place in battle, and entered the meat grinder front lines in Madrid, where he was killed.
An unhinged political extremist, but a sincere one.

Yancey Ward said...

Narr,

I always default to "lay" out of long habit since "lie" is more often misinterpreted to "tell an untruth". I should probably change the default to include "themselves", but never seem to remember to do so.

Narr said...

Just funnin' Yancey. I struggle with those things too!

Narr
Play them as they lie

Michael K said...

An unhinged political extremist, but a sincere one.

I think that applies to Bernie but not to the extent he would actually fight. He is is sincere but not brave at all. He let that BLM woman take his microphone with not even a shrug.

rcocean said...

"We men have 3.3-million years of evolution in STEM, hunting, fishing, arts crafts, etc. and the Althousian Trump cucks continue to beat their chests about how superior men are to dumb broads because they haven't caught up yet in 3-generations."

A thousand dollar reward for anyone insane enough to untangle the SJW snarky weirdness and clarify what this is supposed to mean! Gibberish on stilts. But there's probably some dumbshit somewhere who thinks it like "Truly insightful" LOL!

Doug said...

interested in math but knew she could not do it at the highest level and moved — as many smart women do — into the humanities
Is that the latest explanation for why women don't Excel in the sciences?

Lydia said...

She was also a Jew who was an anti-Semite who thought the Old Testament was so vile that she figured Christ really was a product of the Greeks not the Israelites.

stephen cooper said...

actually, it is more common that people who know they cannot excel at the highest levels at the humanities move into math, rather than vice versa.

Gauss, Kolmogorov, and Godel, just to name a few Europeans. All three wanted to be the next Vergil or the next Shakespeare and while still young they knew that was not going to happen, so they focused on math and accounting.

Living today, when Silicon Valley pays math people so much money, and twitter and Google disproportionately love and support people who have studied math and who are un-self-aware enough to like to incessantly brag about it (looking at you NNT), it is easy to think that Math is harder than humanities

Of course it isn't, no intelligent person has thought that since the days of Melchizedek and Aristotle.

That being said, I have always thought poor Simone Weil - the sibling who chose 'humanities" - was, in fact, like her arrogant brother, a fairly mediocre human being, a self-centered dilettante of existentialism when she could have been someone who really cared about other people and could have done something about it.

But what do I know?

Compare her to Edith Stein .....

but what do I know?

It is no small thing to care about a creature who has lived in this world without help or support ....

stephen cooper said...

There are no great poets who grew up wanting to be great mathematicians.
Not a single one.

Lydia said...

Simone Weil's early death was not caused by eating too little.That was a cover story for the British Health Service's denial of penecillen to treat a Jew.

The British National Health Service wasn't established until 1948, part of the social reforms after WWII. Weil died in 1943.

Weil's parents were very well-to-do and were frantic to save her life and did all they could to help her.

narciso said...

I agree with you, Stephen cooper, that's a rather cramped and inhospitable branch of philosophy, I understand the events that may have informed said pattern of thinking but still though, it's an interesting progression from Marxism to anarchism, from state dominance to no effective state, but we end up with the problem of power vacuums, in Russia the non Marxists trends were the social revolutionaries and the kadets, constitutional democrats, neither faction would have enough influence in the provisional government,

wildswan said...

Simone Weil is very well-known in Catholic circles but I had no idea she had a mathematician brother. I used to read her in college but I admit she was way beyond me. She began thinking where I left off and kept on going. I liked reading her because I liked to think that someone like that had lived but nothing went in.

rcocean said...

At some point being "Great at math" or "Having a high IQ" needs to translate into something concrete for it to be meaningful or admirable. Someone with an IQ of 160 who dies of an eating disorder is just pathetic. Someone who devotes their mighty intellect to writing gibberish or supporting Communism is a negative not a positive.

"Comic Book guy" is probably has the highest verbal IQ in Springfield.

rcocean said...

This reminds me of Susan "White men are the cancer of the human race" Sontag. She certainly had a super-IQ intellect. At least verbally. What good that did anyone and what she wrote that was actually "Wise" is unclear.

narciso said...

Joan Didion's another one, she briefly worked at national review, but she seems to have misunderstood the whole purpose of the project, this carried forward to her work on California, el Salvador and Miami, the last is an area where her category error was most pronounced,

narciso said...

the problem is reason uninformed by faith, uncomprehending of the need for institutions, like rousseau is an epistemological dead end, so for example Woodrow Wilson drank deep of german philosophy informed by the likes of kant, who didn't accept the concept of inalienable rights, that is a formula for leviathan, manifest in the creel committee and the sedition act, fdr would take up that baton a generation later.

Christy said...

Martha, this is bizarre. I'm seeing Kindle at $17.99 and hardcover at $14.23. Prime. Wonder what pricing algorithm targets me so?

Christy said...

Althouse, I'm given the option of a free audio book my Audible trial. I've never pulled the trigger on Audible, I download audio books from the library, instead.

Select Format
Kindle – $17.99
Audiobook – $0.00
Free with your Audible trial
Hardcover – $14.23
Audio CD – $20.25

mandrewa said...

I was using algebra today. I was putting slightly different numbers into
a calculation I'd written several weeks earlier. This is part of an argument
I'm making for a certain course of action, and as part of that argument I'm
trying to write as clearly as possible so that people can understand what
I'm saying and why it is true.

Therefore this is an attempt to write as clearly and as directly as possible.

And one of the interesting things I notice about this is that it seems to my
eyes that math is more persuasive than words. I'm sure it depends upon the
reader, but for the people I'm trying to reach I'm not sure it will help things
any to put more words into the reasoning below. It sees to me that someone
is either going to understand the mathematical argument or they won't. And
there is nothing you can do with words to remedy a lack of understanding.

Now this is nothing more than high school algebra. But high school algebra is
an amazing thing! Because in this calculation as in so many calculations I'm
able, time and again, to start off with knowing a few things, and then deduce
many other things that I want to know.

When I started this calculation I did not know that I would be able to calculate
the numbers that I was seeking. But never-the-less the information appears after
a certain amount of time spent playing around with the equations.

Math isn't like writing a essay, and yet with algebra I can write these equations
from the beginning in the proper sequential order, just as if I were writing
sentences one after another.

(I'll put the calculation in the next comment)

mandrewa said...


We have two unknowns and several equations:

x = mass of liquid oxygen in metric tons
y = mass of liquid hydrogen in metric tons

RL10 propellant has a 5.88:1 mixture ratio. So the total mass of RL10 propellant
that is planned to be burned on the LEO to NRHO transit is:

(6.88/5.88)(x)

And the mass of liquid hydrogen delivered to NRHO will be:

y - (x/5.88)

Now the tanks on the LEO to NRHO run should be full. Since we know their
volume we can use this to construct our first equation:

188.74850 = y/0.07085 + x/1.141

We get our second equation and third equations from the rocket equation, but
this introduces another unknown.

p = perigee burn mass
a = apogee burn mass
p = (6.88/5.88)(x) - a

The rocket equation: delta-v = exhaust.velocity x natural.log(wet.mass/dry.mass)

From Calculation 15 and Calculation AT16:

3.082 km/s perigee burn (Calculation 15)
0.45 km/s apogee burn (Calculation 15)
transit time: 5 days (Calculation 15)
4.565 km/s exhaust velocity (Calculation RL10)
2.707 structural mass (AT16)
0.554 metric tons for 7-day IVF operation (UA16)

1.96430(2.707 + 0.554 + x + y - p)) = (2.707 + 0.554 + x + y)
1.96430(2.707 + 0.554 + x + y) - 1.96430(p) = (2.707 + 0.554 + x + y)
0.96430(2.707 + 0.554 + x + y) - 1.96430((6.88/5.88)(x) - a)
0.96430(2.707 + 0.554 + x + y) = 1.96430((6.88/5.88)(x) - a)
3.14458 + 0.96430(x) + 0.96430(y) = 2.29836(x) - 1.96430(a)
3.14458 + 1.96430(a) + 0.96430(y) = 1.33406(x)

1.10360(2.707 + x + y - p - a) = 2.707 + x + y - p
1.10360(2.707 + x + y - p) - 1.10360(a) = 2.707 + x + y - p
0.10360(2.707 + x + y - p) = 1.10360(a)
0.10360(2.707 + x + y - (6.88/5.88)(x) - a) = 1.10360(a)
0.28045 + 0.10360(x) + 0.10360(y) - 0.12122(x) + 0.10360(a) = 1.103604(a)
0.28045 - 0.017619(x) + 0.10360(y) = a

Then we use 188.74850 = y/0.07085 + x/1.141 to get rid of y.

188.74850 = y/0.07085 + x/1.141
13.37283 = y + 0.062095(x)
y = 13.37283 - 0.062095(x)

3.14458 + 1.96430(a) + 0.96430(y) = 1.33406(x)
3.14458 + 1.96430(a) + 0.96430(13.37283 - 0.062095(x)) = 1.33406(x)
3.14458 + 1.96430(a) + 12.89542 - 0.059878(x) = 1.33406(x)
16.04000 + 1.96430(a) = 1.39394(x)

0.28045 - 0.017619(x) + 0.10360(y) = a
0.28045 - 0.017619(x) + 0.10360(13.37283 - 0.062095(x)) = a
0.28045 - 0.017619(x) + 1.38543 - 0.0064330(x) = a
1.66588 - 0.024052(x) = a

16.04000 + 1.96430(a) = 1.39394(x)
16.04000 + 1.96430(1.66588 - 0.024052(x)) = 1.39394(x)
16.04000 + 3.27229 - 0.047245(x) = 1.39394(x)
19.31228 = 1.44119(x)
x = 13.40028
a = 1.34358
y = 12.54074
p = 14.33566

Narr said...

Mandrewa, the answer is clearly 42.

Narr
No problem

Ann Althouse said...

“Althouse, I'm given the option of a free audio book my Audible trial. I've never pulled the trigger on Audible, I download audio books from the library, instead.”

I don’t want an Audible subscription. I like buying audiobooks individually.

TML said...

I can't remember the last thing that made me feel so small and out of touch with history and the larger world.

Lydia said...

This book by Andre's daughter, Sylvie Weil, At Home with Andre and Simone Weil, sounds interesting. A snippet:

Very early on, I learned not to disturb him when he was working, to maintain a devout silence when he listened to Bach cantatas on the radio Sunday mornings. During my whole childhood, I would discern the looks of terror in the eyes of his young colleagues. And as for me, it was given that he would call me an idiot for not understanding my Latin assignment or an algebra problems … I accepted that he would go off travelling when I was sick, and that he would only listen to me distractedly, with his eyes trained on a book.

Martha said...

Christy said...
Martha, this is bizarre. I'm seeing Kindle at $17.99 and hardcover at $14.23. Prime. Wonder what pricing algorithm targets me so?

Christy,
Sorry for the snide “math is hard” comment.
I had no idea Amazon priced hardcover and Kindle books according to customer.
And I have never seen a Kindle book priced higher than a hardcover.

Christy said...

Martha, your gracious apology accepted. I see that pricing differential occasionally and it makes me nuts.