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Krulwich Wonders: Cinderella's Shape

Thursday, May 26, 2011 - 01:00 PM

The following post is from Robert's excellent blog Krulwich Wonders. You can read all the articles from Krulwich Wonders here.

Kurt Vonnegut Turns Cinderella Into An Equation

Man is a pattern-finding animal. There are folks who look at a scene like this...

Bunny in a field

Illustration by Abstruse Goose

And what they this...

Bunny in a field of equations

Illustration by Abstruse Goose

Or so I'm told. I'm not one of their tribe, but scientists and mathematicians, I imagine, do this compulsively. They can't help themselves. They are pattern addicts. They can't stop finding the abstract in the particular.

All of us, even if we have no knack for science, look at the weather, at our children, at our markets, at the sky, and we see rhythms and patterns that seem to repeat, that give us the ability to predict. "Billy's a good kid, he'll be fine," thinks the teacher. "Take this and you'll feel better," says the doctor. Pattern recognition.

Do any of us live beyond pattern? Do great musicians, breakthrough artists, great athletes operate pattern free? Pattern indifferent?

I don't think so. Artists may be, oddly, the most pattern-aware. Case in point: The totally unpredictable, one-of-a-kind novelist Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat's Cradle, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater) once gave a lecture in which he presented — in graphic form — the basic plots of all the world's great stories. Every story you've ever heard, he said, are reflections of a few, classic story shapes. They are so elementary, he said, he could draw them on an X/Y axis.

Which he then did. Here are three of them. I think you'll recognize the third one rather quickly.

Thanks to Hokumberg Goombah and Gig Thurmond for noticing this; and to Abstruse Goose, a web-based comic strip drawn by I'm not sure who (the author signs his name *******) for our bunny-eats-a-carrot illustrations. The great Kurt Vonnegut died in 2007; this lecture appears on You Tube.


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Comments [3]

Tina from Portland, ME

This made me incredibly happy. You can find math everywhere, and instead of creating a world that is stark and defined I feel that it instead opens it so that I can see every point of beauty. Thank you for sharing!

Jun. 30 2011 01:32 PM
mark from bay village, ohio

i saw him do this live shortly before he died! a modern mark twain! love & miss em

May. 28 2011 08:49 PM

The first two curves look like cosine and sine graphs.

May. 28 2011 11:17 AM

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