Unscheduled Post: No Science without Fancy

A great post from Scott Aaronson on Shtetl-Optimized talking about rational literature, with the wonderful point that in many works that do mention science:

the juvenile humor at the core of how science works will be absent, replaced by a wooden earnestness more in line with the writer’s preconceptions.

However I do think that Scott is a little harsh on literature.  The world is complicated, it cannot be simplified in general.  The magic of science is that it finds things that can be simplified ways that things can be put into simple rules and mathematical rules.  In a similar manner but with different methods most authors strive to find ways of making everything fit together.  His top five are an excellent start for those who have also understood something of science in their work.  I would like to add five of my own:

J L Borges

The commentators on the article got there before me, but he deserves repeating.  What other writer would think to put a library in the universal cover of a 3-torus.

Georges Perec

If you want silly games leading to deep thought Perec is your man.  In his masterwork
using jigsaws, graeco-roman squares and permutations to describe how perfection is impossible and the greatest scheme cannot help but be flawed in some way.

Jan Potocki

The Manuscript Found in Saragossa
 includes accurate renditions of cutting edge mathematics, in the work of the Bernouills.  That was of course cutting edge in the eighteenth century.

Terry Pratchett

The Unseen University parodies to a T the pomposity, silliness and brilliance present in most universities.  It is a deeply sympathetic portrait of the wizards who normally in the end and often not in the way they intended manage to save the day.  

Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov was a published scientist, doing worthy work in the study of butterflies, probably not at the same level as his writing.  His famous quote sums up the point I want to make and provide the title for this:

There is no science without fancy and no art without fact.

I could go on, it was hard enough to bring it down to five, I left out Neal Stephenson to get it to five as he had been added to the comments several times.  The original list was interested in the puncturing of pomposity, rather than a simple understanding of science.  However of my five the three P s Pratchett, Perec and Potocki tackle definately pomposity both outside and within science.