## exterminants and the lost arts of mathematics

There are several -ants in mathematics. Determinants are the classical -ant of mathematics, easiest to define and understand for small matrices but with a wide degree of usefulness and a remarkably wide range of definition. Resultants are another, again very useful and again with a wider range of definition than initially apparent. And perhaps, there are other more obscure -ants.

How mathematicians name concepts and objects is an interesting discussion in its own right and a topic we leave for another day. But one thing I don’t know, because it’s not something we tend to talk about at conferences or over coffee, is whether other mathematicians find a term they like, write it down and save it, and then look for an appropriate concept or object for that particular term.

The term I’ve been saving for a long time is the exterminant. The terminology of mathematics can sometimes seem to be violent, with its annihilators and Killing vector fields, though admittedly the later is named for Wilhelm Killing rather than for any violence that the vector field itself might perpetrate.

I was tempted, I’ll admit, when I first had the idea of exterminants, to write about the discovery of a lost manuscript, or the rediscovery of a lost mathematical method, due to an obscure mathematician, perhaps Georg Eigen. And perhaps some day, I will because it’s an idea that I’ll admit haunts me.

And this haunting is part of something much larger that I’m still working my way through, which is my personal vision of how to blend mathematics and fiction. What are the stories that I want to tell and how do I want to tell them. There are others who have done this very successfully, including but not limited to Rudy Rucker, Greg Egan, and Larry Niven, and others such as Robert Heinlein with their occasional mathematical stories, all authors I’ve enjoyed reading for as long as I’ve enjoyed reading.

And perhaps one day I’ll define something for which the term exterminant is an appropriate term.

I hope you write this story!

Sue Thomason said this on 5 September 2017 at 09:50 |