by Tom Stoppard
Arcadia Science Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene)
Valentine: It's how you look at population changes in biology. Goldfish in a pond, say. This year there are x goldfish. Next year there'll be y goldfish. Some get born, some get eaten by herons, whatever. Nature manipulates the x and turns it into y. Then y goldfish is your starting population for the following year. [...] Your value for y becomes your next value for x. The question is: what is being done to x? What is the manipulation? Whatever it is, it can be written down as mathematics. It's called an algorithm. (1.4)
Science, as Valentine sees it, is basically math – everything can be translated into numbers. It seems sort of like looking at the programming code behind a video game vs. playing the game itself.
Valentine: It's not about the behavior of fish. It's about the behavior of numbers. This thing works for any phenomenon which eats its own numbers – measles epidemics, rainfall averages, cotton prices, it's a natural phenomenon in itself. Spooky. (1.4)
Translating everything into numbers highlights the similarities between things that usually seem totally different. But is something important lost by not considering the specifics of a particular numbers-producing thing?
Hannah: "The testament of the lunatic serves as a caution against French fashion . . . for it was Frenchified mathematick that brought him to the melancholy certitude of a world without light or life . . . as a wooden stove that must consume itself until ash and stove are as one, and heat is gone from the earth. [...] He died aged two score years and seven, hoary as Job and meagre as a cabbage-stalk, the proof of his prediction even yet unyielding to his labours for the restitution of hope through good English algebra." (2.5)
Once again, science appears as part of the culture that produces it – different scientific approaches become a battle of the English vs. the French. (It also picks up on Hannah's comments about "the real English landscape" being imported from Europe – "good English algebra" is actually an Arabic invention.)