Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Length of a Coastline

In the nineties, fifteen or so years ago, when I began posting mathematical poems on the Internet, two of my earliest connections were Ken Stange, a poet and polymath and professor of psychology at Ontario's Nipissing University, and his daughter Kate, then a teen.  Kate publicized her love of mathematics and poetry by creating an online collection,"Mathematical Poetry:  A Small Anthology" which she has continued to maintain for many years--during which she has completed undergraduate and graduate studies in mathematics. 

Don't Trust the Distance Markers        by Ken Stange

          How long is the Coast of Britain?... All measurement methods ultimately lead
          to the conclusion that {any} coastline's length is very large and so ill determined
          that it is best considered infinite ... length is an inadequate concept.
                                            -- Benoit B. Mandelbrot (The Fractal Geometry of Nature)

Believe in progess  .  if you must
but don't believe  .  in milestones.
They're merely monuments  .  to Mister Euclid
who always worked at home.
They allege  .  to give distance.
But one never achieves distance
from what one loves, and as
mistress knows, the traveller loves his road.
Besides no way flies like crow, so
all how-fars just have-to-be
a mathematical function
of how closely
one looks
of how closely
one follows
the curves.
Not that this is reason  .  to complain!
Every coy bend just ahead is worth
at least ten significant digits
many thousand rigid rulers
and a million quantum
It's been established:
we do have world enough  .  (if not time)
and exploring  .  my lady  .  'tis no crime.

"Don't Trust the Distance Markers" is from Ken Stange's Advice to Travelers (Penumbra Press, 1994).  Benoit Mandelbrot also was featured in this blog's May 14 posting. 
Addendum:  I have just learned of the death of Benoit Mandelbrot on Thursday, October 14, 2010.  Here is a link to his NYTimes obituary.

1 comment:

  1. JoAnne,

    Talk about falling down the rabbit hole. There is a lot of stuff here.

    As for the poem I love the following line

    “Besides no way flies like crow, so
    all how-fars just have-to-be

    David Perrings