A mathematician’s theology

Paul Erdos (pronounced air’ dish), the Hungarian mathematician, had his own private slang. Women were “bosses,” men were “slaves,” children were “epsilons (for the smallest Greek letter), and God was the “Supreme Fascist” or “SF” for short. Erdos was born in Budapest to a nominally Jewish family in 1913, lived through various unstable and authoritarian governments in his home country following the First World War, got out of Hungary before the Nazis invaded, was banned from entering the United States during the McCarthy era because he had corresponded with a mathematician in Communist China, and had problems with Stalinist Russia — he had plenty of experience dealing with authoritarian and fascistic governments. He once laid out the rules for dealing with the SF:

The game of life is to keep the SF’s score low. If you do something bad in life, the SF gets two points. If you don’t do something good that you should have done, the SF gets one point. You never score, so the SF always wins. [Quoted in Paul Hoffman, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, New York: Hyperion, 1998.]

This prompts some interesting reflections. First, is it possible to determine my score in the game of life? (I think the answer is “no,” since some of the good things I should have done but didn’t do, I didn’t do because I wasn’t aware that I should do them; then too, part of the SF’s power is keeping us from knowing exactly how low our score is.) Second, what would constitute a low score? (All I’m looking for is a rough order of magnitude: 1,000? 1,000,000?) Third, is score in the game of life plotted against time? (If not, then early suicide would lead to the lowest possible score, since the worst it could do is add 2 to your score, while living even another day could potentially add dozens to your score.)

2 thoughts on “A mathematician’s theology”

  1. If you accept original sin, SF already has a few points from birth. In addition if the SF does something wrong to you (see Job first chapter), he blusters (who are you to question) and doesn’t allow any points to you though he might give you some new kids.

    Apparently according to one friend “that the SF had a Book containing elegant proofs of all the important theorems, and when a mathematician worked very hard, the SF could be distracted long enough to allow her or him to take a brief peek. Particularly elegant proofs were described as fit to be placed in the Book.”

  2. Erp — In The Man Who Loved Only Numbers (New York: Hyperion, 1998), p. 26, Paul Hoffman quotes Erdos as follows:

    “‘I’m not qualified to say whether or not God exists,’ Erdos said. ‘I kind of doubt He does. Nevertheless, I’m always saying that the SF has this transfinite Book — transfinite being a concept in mathematics that is larger than infinite — that contains the best proofs of all mathematical theorems, proofs that are elegant and perfect.’ The strongest compliment Erdos gave to a colleague’s work was to say, ‘It’s straight from the Book.'”

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