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This is a pretty neat article on the possible mathematical symbolism in Alice in Wonderland.

Excerpt:

Reading this scene with Hamilton's maths in mind, the members of the Hatter's tea party represent three terms of a quaternion, in which the all-important fourth term, time, is missing. Without Time, we are told, the characters are stuck at the tea table, constantly moving round to find clean cups and saucers.

Their movement around the table is reminiscent of Hamilton's early attempts to calculate motion, which was limited to rotatations in a plane before he added time to the mix. Even when Alice joins the party, she can't stop the Hatter, the Hare and the Dormouse shuffling round the table, because she's not an extra-spatial unit like Time.

The Hatter's nonsensical riddle in this scene - "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" - may more specifically target the theory of pure time. In the realm of pure time, Hamilton claimed, cause and effect are no longer linked, and the madness of the Hatter's unanswerable question may reflect this.

Alice's ensuing attempt to solve the riddle pokes fun at another aspect of quaternions: their multiplication is non-commutative, meaning that x Ã— y is not the same as y Ã— x. Alice's answers are equally non-commutative. When the Hare tells her to "say what she means", she replies that she does, "at least I mean what I say - that's the same thing". "Not the same thing a bit!" says the Hatter. "Why, you might just as well say that 'I see what I eat' is the same thing as 'I eat what I see'!"

It's an idea that must have grated on a conservative mathematician like Dodgson, since non-commutative algebras contradicted the basic laws of arithmetic and opened up a strange new world of mathematics, even more abstract than that of the symbolic algebraists.

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Alice is another adult book disguised as a kids book.

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