1. dave_c
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    dave_c Active Member

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    using alternative mathematics in a fantasy novel

    Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by dave_c, Apr 4, 2011.

    The story I'm writing at the moment (fantasy) is based on a world quite unlike our own and has no links what so ever to our ours.

    As such, i find it unlikely that such a world would come to the same conclusion as ours on math. Iv been thinking about using something such as base 13 mathematics.

    My question is this: will readers be able to keep up? or will this make it so complicated that its impossible to do so?

    If you understand base mathematics skip the red writing for those who don't Ill include a quick explanation (this is a writing forum after all and not a maths one :))

    in most earthly cultures we have what is called base 10 math (0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9) when you reach the end you "reset" to 0 (10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19)

    Using another base number means you reset at a different number, so
    (using base 4 in this example)
    0,1,2,3,10,11,12,13,20,21etc
    (or using base 2 also known as binary [computer language])
    0,1,10,11,100,101,110,111,1000,1001,1010,1011,1100 etc


    I got the idea when reading an extract from the original Alice in Wonderland but when used there it was meant to sound like rubbish where as here it would be part of the story (though not a major one). I realize that maybe I'm veering into Sci-fi territory more than fantasy so am cautious to say the least.

    Opinions are all more than welcome,

    Thanks, Dave.
     
  2. Norule
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    Norule Member

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    I think its fine using "normal" math, no one will think: "Hey, why are they using our math".

    I have to ask though are you using English? beacuse if you are then there is no reason not to use regular math :)
     
  3. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why wouldn't they come to the same conclusions ? Does their enviroment function so significantly different ?

    I have sort of cod science in my book no one who has read it so far has objected to it. That includes scientists.
     
  4. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    It could be interesting if it is an important part of the story, but if it has little or nothing to do with the plot, then don't. It'll just be confusing and unnecessary.
     
  5. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    The base-10 system is really only in use because we have ten fingers.

    Binary is very elegant, and would be universally understandable to any race with an advanced knowledge of mathematics.

    What is your motivation for using base-13?

    And yes, I think if you started writing down figures in your book and expected readers to catch up on the maths, you would annoy many people. On the other hand, if you use it only occasionally, I don't see what's wrong with it.

    A century ago, lots of parts of Europe were still using a base-12 system. In the US, people still are, at least for measures and weights.
     
  6. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    2+2 doesn't = 6 unless you are a gossip monger - no matter what world you live in.
     
  7. dave_c
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    dave_c Active Member

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    base 13 was half because when i have seen this kind of thing used before its always been base - (number below 10) and i fancy making up my own numbers up :D

    base 12 is still used in virtually every corner of the planet in one form, ill give you a clue, what time is it?

    im inclined to agree, i think its going to massively over complicate things it wasn't going to be in integral part of the story or anything, i just like fiddling with reality and seeing in what ways i can screw with it, i think its one of the reasons i like writing (playing god)

    on the other and it has given me a starting idea for another story (an unlucky world called 13 :D)
     
  8. SeverinR
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    SeverinR Contributing Member

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    I think if you go to far overboard you will stimulate the math wiz but might leave the average person bored. (You know the largest part of the reader audience.)
    If it isn't a great part of the story, then it won't be a problem. But then it wouldn't matter, just simpler to use base 10.
    Much like language, we write in the language we feel comfortable in, with minor cultural adjustments. People would lose interest if we wrote in some obscure language.

    It would be a good trick to teach your readers about a different number base and keep it interesting. Thats what teachers try to do. Only the good ones succeed.
    If you can do it, I would suggest you create a learning system for people to buy to learn math easier. rather then a simple writer.
     
  9. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    How important is this math system to your story?

    If it is important, work it in, if it's not crucial, leave it out-that simple. The story comes first comes first comes first. Details are secondary.

    Otherwise I think it's a cool idea and good luck to you, when it's up for review let me know so I can check it out:cool:
     
  10. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    *blink*

    I can barely keep up with standard mathematics never mind the use a different system. If I read a novel like this I'd get confused and end up tossing it aside.
     
  11. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I see two problems with "alternative mathematics", one practical and the other being the nature of math. On the practical side, in order for it to have any meaning, you'd have to explain it to the reader, and if it were something on a higher order of mathematics (as I would imagine it would have to be), that could become extremely tedious and rob your story of energy (as well as turning off any reader who wasn't math oriented).

    But the deeper reason is the one that Trilby mentioned. Mathematical relationships are used to describe our world, but they exist separate and apart from our world. 1=1 regardless of what 1 may be called. And if you have 2, you no longer have 1. That can't change.

    One other thing. The concept of different base systems is hardly new, and not very exotic. Going to a base 13 system may not have much practical use, but it does not represent an alternative mathematics. The laws of mathematics (associative, communicative, etc) are still the same. There are even number systems based on irrational numbers, such as base tau (tau is approximately equal to 1.618033989). But the laws of mathematics still apply. (I know of this system only because of a friend of mine who is a genius and studied advanced math and computer systems in college. He once warned me about base tau: "Never try to take the cube root of 1." I promised him I wouldn't).
     
  12. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    Well, as long as it is motivated somehow (why is 13 used in this world?), and if you only use it very sparingly, making sure to keep holding on to the reader's hand while plodding through the maths, I think it could add a little atmosphere. But I wouldn't use it more than three or four times in an entire book.

    Ah, yes. Forgot about that one. Idiotically, it is not even consistent, because it is really base 24, and is coupled to a strange base 60 system, which switches back to base 10 two orders of magnitude down. An order of magnitude up, it gets even worse, because of a strange jump to base 7 and an inconsistent base 12 and base 365 (somtimes 366) system.

    Commutative. Sorry for the nitpick. ;) Otherwise, I fully agree. And to add some advice to that, you shouldn't try to integrate dx/(1-a² sin²x)^(0.5) either.
     
  13. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Time is not kept in base 12 or base 24, it is in base 10. The counting system is no different than any other aspect of base 10. When we count 60 minutes to the hour, have we suddenly switched to base 60? The number system is base 10, but what changes is the total of what we are counting. IIRC, the division of the day into 24 hours stems from the geometric principle that there are 360 degrees in a circle and the empirical fact of the passage of time as measured by the progress of the sun across those 360 degrees as the earth spins on its axis. If you counted all of that in binary (base 2), the numbers would look radically different, but the relationships among the numbers would be the same.
     
  14. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Serves me right for posting after my bedtime.

    Not in a million years.
     
  15. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    I will concede that the figures are written in base 10, but that's all. Putting 360 degrees in a circle is completely arbitrary. Could be 100, or 10. Some people actually work with 400 degrees, and others again like to talk about 2pi.
     
  16. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    what the hell are you guys talking about? lol:rolleyes:
     
  17. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    They're more than just written in base 10, they are counted in base 10. If they were counted in binary, for example, what we know as 2:00 would be 10:00. What we know as 4:00 would be 100:00.
     
  18. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Damned if I know! LOL!!
     
  19. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can still include it but only if your knowledge is good enough to generalise, include things in passing, mention it in a few words.
     
  20. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Base 16 is widely used in computing. But none of this is "alternative mathematics" with "different conclusions". It's alternative notations for perfectly ordinary mathematics.
     
  21. dave_c
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    dave_c Active Member

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    Maybe i used the word "alternative" mathematics badly here, as i said earlier i like to put these mathematical ....twists in because i like to screw with reality and find that we take many of them for granted.

    Different base maths isn't about counting a different number, its more about how you represent those numbers. however how we represent those numbers has had massive effects over how we think. I like to try and break out of these, for lack of a better word, preconceptions where ever i can.

    After much thought I'm going to leave it for the most part out of the story i may add it in as a small mention for one of the other species but nothing more.

    oh and Porcupine that equation, it makes my ears bleed. haha
     
  22. digitig
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    Non-integer bases are fun. You can choose the number you want to represent a quantity, then choose your base to make it so. I'm not sure I would ever use that in writing, though, unless I was writing about a maths geek playing around.

    You threw me with tau, because I know it as phi. But it's interesting to know that mathematicians think that the cube root of 1 is tricky. Engineers don't bat an eye at cube roots of 1. :p
     

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