Sunday, October 01, 2023

Fortnightly Book, October 1

 Michael F. Flynn passed away on September 30, 2023. Born in Easton, Pennsylvania, he received his B.A. in mathematics at La Salle University and his M.S. in topology at Marquette University, and had a career as an industrial statistician specializing in quality control. He had an extensive and quite successful career as a science fiction author, and of course, he was active online. I had many, many interesting discussions with him on a wide variety of topics.

For the fortnightly book, therefore, I will be doing my very favorite of his works, In the Country of the Blind. The book was originally published in 1990. It was revised in 2001, to make a few modifications and particularly to update names -- like changing 'DataNet' to the term that actually ended up becoming common, 'Internet'. I'll be re-reading the revised edition, which also includes an essay by Flynn, "An Introduction to Cliology", on various ways in which mathematics can be applied to social phenomena.

The essential idea behind In the Country of the Blind is that in the nineteenth century a number of American mathematicians were intrigued by Charles Babbage's work both on the application of statistics to social phenomena and on the mechanization of mathematical reasoning; they formed the Babbage Society, which discovered how to predict the future mathematically, and has been operating behind the scenes ever since. When Sarah Beaumont, a real estate developer with a talent for computer programming, stumbles onto evidence of their existence, the world will never be the same again....