Greg Linch's Commonplace Book

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Her reengagement with math, she claimed to her mother, spurred her creativity and led to an “immense development of imagination, so much so that I feel no doubt if I continue my studies I shall in due time be a Poet.”

Ada’s great strength was her ability to appreciate the beauty of mathematics, something that eludes many people, including some who fancy themselves intellectual. She realized that math was a lovely langauge, one that describes the harmonies of the universe, and it could be poetic at times. This ability to apply imagination to science characterized the Industrial Revolution as well as the computer revolution, for which she was to become a patron saint. She was able, as she told Babbage, to understand the connection between poetry and analysis in ways that transcended her father’s talents. “I do not believe that my father was (or ever could have been) such a Poet as I shall be an Analyst (& Metaphysician); for with me the two go together indissolubly,” she wrote.[xvi]

she was able to secure a first-rate math tutor instead: Augustus De Morgan, a patient gentleman and superb mathematician who was a pioneer in the field of symbolic logic. He had propounded a concept in algebra that Ada would one day employ with great significance, which was that an algebraic equation could apply to things other than just numbers.

The only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron, Ada had inherited her father’s romantic spirit, a trait that her mother tried to temper by having her tutored in mathematics. The resulting combination produced in Ada a love for what she took to calling “poetical science,” which linked her rebellious imagination to an enchantment with numbers. She appreciated both the arts and the sciences. For many people, including her father, the rarefied sensibilities of the Romantic Era clashed with the techno-excitement of the Industrial Revolution. But Ada was comfortable at the intersection of both eras.

Edwin Land, Alan Kay, Steve Jobs and other imaginative innovators would later say that they loved to stand at the intersection of the arts and sciences. So did Ada. Her love of both poetry and math primed her to see “great beauty” in a computing machine. She was an exemplar of the era of Romantic science, which was characterized by a lyrical enthusiasm for invention and discovery. It was a period that brought “imaginative intensity and excitement to scientific work,” Richard Holmes wrote in The Age of Wonder. “It was driven by a common ideal of intense, even reckless, personal commitment to discovery.”[vii]

In Jorge Luis Borges’ fable “On Exactitude in Science,” a map made on a scale of one to one replaces the territory it’s supposed to represent. For theorist Jean Baudrillard, that map is a metaphor for postmodern life. On Community, that map represents mass media: the depictions of human experience in pop culture that have become the standards by which our flesh and blood lives are judged.

my experience puzzling over the card, before I knew the code, was a bit like a centering prayer, moving letter by letter, in a way that was much more like viewing a painting than reading a text.