Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Catastrophe Germs

     At the outset of his second attempt to conquer the Celts of the British Islands, a school boy legend amongst the English has it that Julius Caesar ordered the transport ships to be burned while his legions were sleeping.  Worth noting that this is not a story Julius Caesar himself admits to in his own history of the Gallic Wars.  But in the mind of a conquered people, the desperate ruthlessness of the victor can never be over exaggerated.  There is also a record in the Muslim invasion of the Spanish Peninsular, around 700 Ad, where Tariq son of Ziyad ordered the ships to be burned.  And on it goes through Hernan Cortes during his adventure in the Americas, into that moment when Christian and his followers from the Bounty reached Pitcairn Island.  All of these leaders determined to succeed or die in their attempt to succeed.  It was The Principal, I guess, that drove them, as much as fear or lust.  And it's one that may or may not make sense to a mathematician from a distant planet. 

      This mathematician might of course see the burning of ships as catastrophe germs, critical moments that direct the unfolding of an equation or shape.  "It was that Principal," he'd say, "that begun this unfolding and which led to this spot here on the line where it is at this moment in time."   Then he might go on to point out other variables contained in his unfolding equation, at which point I'd probably lose interest, which would leave him hunting for a definition of the word Principal that might synthesize into a particular set of variables, that he'd call directional variables.  A concept my much smaller tolerance for detail might comprehend.  "The sealing of fate," I'd suggest.  "More like an LOL," he'd reply with the smugness that mathematicians from distant planets are so prone to.  Which isn't an expression I approve of, I find it puerile and deceitful, which is another way of saying very, very irritating, but like Dali I do see his point..

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