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Monday, April 03, 2006

My soul’s an amphicheiral knot

This is the first line of a poem written by Maxwell, in the style of Shelley, to tease gently his fellow physicist Peter Guthrie Tait's efforts to build a theology on the basis of a knot theoretic account of atoms. I wrote a chapter (figures omitted) on this theologically-motivated program of research, in which Tait was joined by Thomson (Kelvin) and an amateur mathematician, the Reverend Thomas Penyngton Kirkman. I intended this as part of a popular book on mathematicians. However, since this project is on hold, I thought I'd make it available.

Update: I've scanned in the figures in two 1.8 MB tif files here and here.

Update: Here's the first stanza of Maxwell's poem in full:

My soul's an amphicheiral knot
Upon a liquid vortex wrought
By Intellect in the Unseen residing,
While thou dost like a convict sit
With marlinspike untwisting it
Only to find my knottiness abiding,
Since all the tools for my untying
In four-dimensioned space are lying,
Where playful fancy intersperses
Whole avenues of universes,
Where Klein and Clifford fill the void
With one unbounded, finite homoloid,
Whereby the infinite is hopelessly destroyed.

And a Homage to James Clerk Maxwell, which mentions the verse, by someone who taught me electromagnetism.


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