Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ann and Frank - laughing with GKC and Frances

You just gotta laugh. Or I hope you will.

I was hunting for something over on the wonderful collection of things from Dover, and stunmbled into something very curious. Dover you know does a great collection of GKC books, mostly his fiction, but including Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man; they also have some of Belloc's poems, and several books of Blake's art, but not yet GKC's book on Blake. Ahem. But it wasn't a Chesterton book I was laughing at.

But first, in order to see the humour, you'll need this Chesterton quote...
...when a very unobtrusive Oxford man named John Boulnois wrote in a very unreadable review called The Natural Philosophic Quarterly a series of articles on alleged weak points in Darwinian evolution, it fluttered no corner of the English papers; though Boulnois's theory (which was that of a comparatively stationary
universe visited occasionally by convulsions of change) had some rather faddy fashionableness at Oxford, and got so far as to be named "Catastrophism." But many American papers seized on the challenge as a great event; and the Sun threw the shadow of Mr. Boulnois quite gigantically across its pages.
[GKC "The Strange Crime of John Boulnois" in The Wisdom of Father Brown]
Yes, you think that's all fiction, don't you?

Heh heh heh.

Here's what I stumbled on, available from Dover:
Catastrophe Theory for Scientists and Engineers

Robert Gilmore
Our Price $26.95
Availability: In Stock

Format: Book
ISBN: 0486675394
Page Count: 666
Dimensions: 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
Catastrophe theory attempts to study how the qualitative nature of the solutions of equations depends on the parameters that appear in the equations. This advanced-level treatment describes the mathematics of catastrophe theory and its applications to problems in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and engineering. 28 tables. 397 black-and-white illustrations. 1981 edition.
Yes, it's real, not something made- up. Here's the link, see for yourself.

This reminds me (as you would expect) of another Chesterton quote...
It is one of the journalist's tragedies that whenever he introduces a thing purely as an impossibility, somebody writes to say that it really occurred. If I use a foolish metaphor at random I generally receive two letters - one complaining that the thing is too violent and absurd, the other saying that it happened to the writer's aunt. My wild phrases are quite tame; they have been domesticated for centuries. This is pathetic and sometimes almost disheartening.
[GKC ILN Sept 22 1906 CW27:285]
No, I did not get Dover to help me with a joke. It's a real thing. (And Dale didn't, either. But if you ask him about it, he'll probably be selling them at the next ChesterCon along with the relevant Father Brown collection. Hee hee. At least then you'll know.)

You're not laughing? I sure am.

Oh well... it's just like those jokes Frank would read at the Traditions part of the final banquet at ChesterCons. But I hear Ann laughing too...


  1. What exactly is this catastrophe theory? Is it like the mathematics of the probability of miracles? If it is...ha ha. If it's not, I will need the joke to be explained to me.

  2. Catastrophe theory is basically the mathematical modeling and understanding of "catastrophes." These are things such as landslides, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc. But, not a car accident. In a nutshell, it's how small changes can cause big events(catastrophes). These are known as bifurcation points in mathematics. Some equations will model a nice easy sloping hill where if you change something in one direction you're not in trouble. Catastrophe theory deals with equations modeling buttes basically. Where if you go a bit far from equilibrium, you're in deep trouble.

  3. Isn't that also known as the "Butterfly Effect" ... the effect of a flap of a butterfly's wings in one part of the world could eventually cause a chain reaction leading to some catastrophe in another part of the world years later.

  4. What your describing as a butterfly effect would be an example of something that could be analyzed with catastrophe theory.


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