Logic in Math and in the Arts

This post is prompted mainly from my first-year writing seminar, English 1170: Short Stories. A couple days ago we discussed “The Necklace” and “Araby,” by Guy de Maupassant and James Joyce respectively. Being a math/logic person, I found there’s just something uncanny about literary analysis—something similar, yet not the same—as if it requires a subtly different kind of logic. I felt I was thinking in a completely different manner in that class, and asked myself, are logic in math and logic in literary analysis the same? Today, in a discussion on “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe, I think I found my answer.

The discovery is not that the logic is different: logic is when one thing follows another, and this chain is the same for mathematics and literature. Rather, the primary difference is in the direction of the chain.

In math, we often have to prove a theorem. We know exactly what it is we’re trying to prove: we’re just supplying what gets us there. Of course, this can get very tough sometimes, but we know at least what the end result is.

The difference in analyzing literature is that we at first don’t know what we’re trying to prove—we don’t know what argument about the work we want to make.

Literary analysis is therefore more open-ended. I’m not saying mathematical proofs are easy—many of them are unsolved or have taken centuries to solve—but they are defined problems that can be solved (or be shown to be unsolvable). Analyzing literature is really weird since I’m so used to mathematical logic.

Also, the reason I made this post and not earlier is that I’ve never done literary analysis on this level before. In this case there is a noticeable difference between high school and college.

Starcraft II Editor — Second Look

Random fact: On the day of my last post, which was about a short story considered a brilliant piece of American literature, my blog received its lowest daily view count in more than three months (130 views). I guess the Internet is just that antagonistic towards American literature.

Today’s topic is much different: the StarCraft II map editor. Four months ago, during the beta, I was able to play around with the editor very basically, and wrote up a post comparing the SC2 editor to the SC1 and WC3 editors.

Recently I was able to mess around with the editor again, this time trying to create the basic gameplay for an AoS-type map. After all, I had plenty of experience with the WC3 editor, and the SC2 editor, as I mentioned in the linked post, is very similar.

That turns out less true than I thought. The truth is, the SC2 editor is not only far more powerful, as I had mentioned, but also far, far more complicated. Of course, diving into any new thing takes a while of getting used to, but on the SC2 editor, I spent eight hours just trying to make a hero system and setting up the map and triggers for an AoS, and didn’t even succeed in creating items or an inventory. To change even a single stat on a weapon took me a couple minutes of messing around the first time.

My new argument: While the WC3 editor and the SC2 editor look very much alike, the WC3 editor is in fact more like the SC1 editor than the SC2 editor. Actually, there is an important caveat here: I’m talking only about the Object/Data editor. For Terrain and Triggers, it still stands that WC3 and SC2 are closer.

The object editor in WC3 is essentially the unit editor of SC1 with significantly more fields, and also more tabs (not only units, but also abilities, items, doodads, destructibles, buffs). Suppose I wanted to change the damage of a Marine/Footman. In SC1 I would go to the Marine unit, and change the damage field from 6 to whatever I wanted it to be. For the WC3 Footman, the process is exactly the same.

SC2, on the other hand, is modular. So, to change the damage of the Marine, you can’t just go to the Marine unit. From the Marine, you have to find the link to the weapon, which in turn has a link to the damage. Once you’re at the damage, you can modify it.

Alright, it takes two more steps—so what? Well, this makes multi-object things WAY more complicated. Letsay I wanted to create an item that adds an aura in WC3. I would need an Item, Ability, and Buff. The Ability must known which Buff the aura uses, and the Item must know what Ability it is supposed to carry. Nice and simple. In SC2… let’s just say I haven’t figured it out yet.

Even supposing I could create an item, I would also need the inventory, which is incredibly difficult to make, at least without a very careful and detailed tutorial. Even looking at the source of another map (which was an excellent way to learn the WC3 editor) seemed to not help, because there were several inter-object links that I did not know how to make.

Anyway, I’m not saying the SC2 editor sucks or anything—I’m just saying it’s far, far more complicated than what I’m used to, and it will most likely have a long adaptation time. Even figuring out the basics is a challenging task. Right now, the editor just seems far more complex than it needs to be, but we’ll see.

Young Goodman Brown

All right, I must first get this out of the way: I don’t like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing style. I mean, he’s the guy who wrote The Scarlett Letter.

But I’ll have to admit that his short story “Young Goodman Brown” is a very intriguing piece of work. The context? I’m taking an English class (ENGL 1170: Short Stories) for my writing seminar, and our primary book is 40 Short Stories compiled by Beverly Lawn. “Young Goodman Brown” is the first story. Of course, I don’t intend to write a blog post on each one, but I will share the ones I find the most awesome. This means I will be adding to this blog another category: Short Stories.

I would encourage you to read “Young Goodman Brown” if you haven’t already. In case, here is an online copy of the text: http://www.online-literature.com/hawthorne/158/.

Dream or Reality?

In the fifth to last paragraph, Goodman Brown wakes up in a forest and doesn’t know whether the previous events of his being at a devil worship in the forest were real or a dream. Hawthorne leaves it ambiguous. (Remember, this was published in 1835, fully 175 years before Inception.)

I would argue it’s a dream.

First, the story is too supernatural. The devil figure in the woods carries a serpentine staff that seems to animate twice. The first time Brown dismisses it as an “ocular deception” (p. 2 of 40 Short Stories). The second time, though still uncertain, is quite vivid:

So saying, he threw it [the staff] at her feet, where, perhaps, it assumed life, being one of the rods which its owner had formerly lent to the Egyptian magi. Of this fact, however, Goodman Brown could not take cognizance. (5)

The fact that Brown sees the staff coming to life twice may imply it isn’t just by mistake. And even if you don’t take the staff’s animation as a sign of the supernatural, perhaps you will take the actual devil figure as supernatural.

Second, it’s too coincidental. Of course, most literature have those moments when the right thing happens at the right place, at the right time, but here, one scene does seem very contrived. It is scene in which Goodman Brown sees the pink ribbon fall from the sky, the pink being ribbon a part of Faith, his wife. It is an extreme coincidence that the ribbon happens to fall in the middle of the woods precisely where Brown is sitting, and at precisely the time he calls out for Faith. (Then again, the very much real ‘A’ that appeared in the sky in The Scarlett Letter was a super coincidence as well.)

Third, when Goodman Brown wakes up he is in an uncorrupted forest. The most telling sentence is this:

He staggered against the rock, and felt it chill and damp; while a hanging twig, that had been all on fire, besprinkled his cheek with the coldest dew. (12)

So, when just before, the twig had been on fire and the rock had been hot and dry, they are now cool and moist. This isn’t even in the morning. He wakes up to find himself here in the middle of the calm night. Thus, we have sufficient reason to believe the journey of Goodman Brown is but a dream.