Math is from eros, programming is from logos?

The last post has been by far the most visited to date, with 573 views registered just since last night at midnight GMT.  By way of comparison, I read in the Wikipedia article about hornets that “at the peak of its population, the colony can reach a size of 700 workers…”  So the peak may not yet have been reached. I am postponing Part 2 until the wave subsides; and there will probably be a Part 3 to analyze the varied reactions.

Meanwhile, I mentioned in an earlier post that Lewis Hyde’s The Gift was originally subtitled Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property.  Hyde distinguishes the erotic nature of the gift economy (since erotic exchange enriches both partners) from the logical nature of market exchange.  On p. 345 he quotes Karl Marx:

Logic is the money of mind…; logic is alienated thinking and therefore thinking which abstracts from nature and from real man.

(I haven’t checked the original source) and on p. 201 Hyde writes:

The hegemony of the market can undermine the possibility of gift exchange, the esemplastic powers can be destroyed by an overvaluation of analytic cognition, song can be silenced by self-consciousness, and the plenitude of the imagination can be lost to the scarcity of logic.

Hyde is mainly thinking of poetry, but I have already suggested that his analysis applies as well to mathematics.  Without dwelling on this suggestion here, I would like to point out that this is consistent with what I found in Chapter 8 about the general hostility of rock musicians to mathematics.  Rock assuredly leans to eros rather than logos; as I write, “[r]ock’s main gripe with mathematics” in the songs cited there (many of them listed here) is that “love doesn’t conform to its equations.”  This may stem from a confusion, that I hope my book will contribute to clearing up, of mathematical eros with programming logos (see the lyrics to this song).

But it would be ridiculous to claim that mathematics is pure eros.  On the contrary, mathematics is characterized by a fine balance between eros and logos.  Of all genres of popular music, it most closely resembles rap in this respect; this may help explain why (as Chapter 8 points out) rappers seem to be drawn to mathematics.


3 thoughts on “Math is from eros, programming is from logos?

  1. Gershom B

    You certainly do a fine job of conveying your vision of mathematical eros, but on what basis can you speak of a “programming logos”? Here is one possible description of the field of programming languages and logics (including, but not only, that aspect related to proof-assistants): In this discipline, we build ourselves robot friends that play games with us, and do so in ways that surprise us. Alternately, to investigate constructions, we first build the universes in which they live. In fact, leave aside the field of automated logic and proofs altogether: programming and computer science are _extremely_ playful disciplines, and I think the idea that they are less open-ended or inclined to free invention than “pure” mathematics is just sort of a false and silly binary. One might as well claim that a sketchbook is necessarily better for a child’s imagination than a set of legos.


  2. Pingback: Performing truth | Mathematics without Apologies, by Michael Harris

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