Terminology Rock: The Modus Version.

Disclaimer: I wrote this post ages ago and forgot to click the big orange Posty button at the bottom. Hence all my excitement at Ngram, which was at that time shiny and buzzworthy.

Oh, would that Google Ngram Viewer had been released when we started this blog. I know I can't make any real claims to linguistic skill or knowledge, so it sure is nice to have a computer do all the work for me. Check it out: I just found a hit for the phrase "safe as houses" as early as 1840, while my hasty manual search almost conclusively slated it in 1859.
They drop this phrase a few times in the book, and it made me wonder:
"...first recorded in 1859, has endured in both meanings to the present day. Partridge quotes Hotten's A Slang Dictionary as an explanation of its origin, saying that the meaning may have arisen 'when the railway bubbles began to burst and speculation again favoured houses.'"

Auto-catalytic tree, on the other hand, gets zero mentions anywhere. Guess they haven't transcribed TDE yet, huh?
Still, fun with language persists: "Catalyst," via chemist Berzelius in 1836, is an object that, without being altered, causes a reaction outside itself. Funnily enough, before 1660, "catalysis" meant ruin and destruction. Thus the phrase "auto-catalytic tree," most assumedly speaking of an object with multiple distinct parts that affect each other in turn, could once have been taken to mean an object that ruins itself, something self-destructive.

I stumbled over the term Catastrophist when it was first mentioned in the third iteration: for some reason I immediately related it to Michael Moorcock's warring forces in the Blood trilogy, Chaos versus the Singuarity. Originated in 1869, it does not in fact refer to a schizophrenic, subjective, all-encompassing view of the universe but to theories of historical events that involve destruction or creation on a massive and violent scale, like the Big Bang or the comet that killed the dinosaurs.

Kurt Gödel by Any Other Name

Allana, thanks for laying out all these references like this. Until looking at it all in your chronology, I didn't really get the whole thread of the Modus, but you are right, the supposed mathematical dysfunction is recognizable.

It's Gödel's incompleteness theory.

This spells it out quite clearly:

And yet the execution of the so-called Modus Program demonstrated that any formal system must be both incomplete and unable to establish its own consistency. There is no finite mathematical way to express the property of 'truth.'

That's exactly Gödel's first incompleteness theorem.

You can think of it as the formalized logical equivalent of saying:

"This sentence is false."

The falsity of that sentence is not provable by the logic of the language's meaning. If it is indeed false then actually the sentence is true, but if it is true it cannot be false. There is simply no possible way to resolve the falsehood of that sentence using language logic.

The incompleteness theorem does a similar (though not paradoxical) thing with statements of provability. It basically says:

"Obviously true logical statement X is not provable within Theory Y"

I don't have the math here solid enough myself to get any more descriptive, but this is always true of any set of mathematical proofs assembled into a theoretic framework. There are an infinite number of obviously true logical statements within that Framework that cannot be proved by reference to proofs within that framework. It's not that proofs haven't been found, it's that they cannot be found. They are impossible. It's like impenetrable logical singularities littering the knowableness of everything.

Kurt Gödel published his incompleteness theorem in 1929. It looks like Gibson and Sterling have cast Ada Byron as the Kurt Gödel of 1855. Maybe the disorder of the Grand Napoleon is an analog for the disruption caused by the dawning awareness that human beings can't comprehensively prove the existence of anything. 1932 is known as the Miracle Year in physics as in that one year most of the basic framework of Quantum Physics fell out of the heads of a circle of physicists and mathematicians surrounding Niels Bohr. These fellows were aware of Kurt Gödel and his work. It's as though the introduction of the incontrovertible evidence of the unproveableness lurking inside all of our frameworks of knowledge set off a cascade of insight that undid the certainty underpinning all of human thought.

I need to give this more thought. I'm sure the authors are going for something with this in the context of physical computation.

The Modus Program.

Finally, we're at the point where things can get assembled without anyone screaming Spoiler! Oh, how I've waited.

Here's a summary of the travels of the Napoleon cards, with page numbers:
1. Mick has them, alluding to Ada's aid in acquisition. (28)
2. Sybil sends them to Paris and picks them up there. (57)
3. Sybil gives the box to the Fils de Vaucanson, specifically Theo Gautier. (392)
4. Theo runs them through the Napoleon and affects its powers of higher reasoning. (386)
5. The box is stolen by Flora Bartelle and brought back to Britain. (386)
6. Mallory is given them by Ada for safe-keeping; he hides them in the Brontosaurus. (94; 216)
7. The box, revealed by Flora and the Marquess, is given to Oliphant at the crime scene, with a note from Ada to Flora and Collins. (377 and 375)
8. Oliphant gives the cards to Keats, to find out what they are. (415)

Keats, of course, doesn't tell us, but Ada does, sort of, a bit. In the very last section of the novel, the Queen of Engines gives us a long-awaited acknowledgement of the Modus and its operation, which I now think of as something like the computer running through infinite tic-tac-toe sequences at the end of Wargames (anyone else?):

"And yet the execution of the so-called Modus Program demonstrated that any formal system must be both incomplete and unable to establish its own consistency. There is no finite mathematical way to express the property of 'truth.' The transfinite nature of the Byron Conjectures were the ruination of the Grand Napoleon; the Modus Program initiated a series of nested loops, which, though difficult to establish, were yet more difficult to extinguish. The program ran, yet rendered its Engine useless! It was indeed a painful lesson in the halting abilities of even our finest ordinateurs.
"Yet I do believe, and must asset most strongly, that the Modus technique of self-referentiality will someday form the bedrock of a genuinely transcendental meta-system of calculatory mathematics. The Modus has proven my Conjectures, but their practical exfoliation awaits an Engine of vast capacity, one capable of iterations of untold sophistication and complexity."

This is a partial list of the varying theories and explanations of the Napoleon cards:
"... No one can get it to run." (22)
"A certain nested series of mathematical hypotheses." (27)
"Amuse [Babbage]...." and "gambling system...." (30)
"It is gambling-trouble. Lady Ada has a Modus.... It is a legend in sporting circles, Dr Mallory. A Modus is a gambling-system, a secret trick of mathematical Enginery, to defeat the odds-makers. Every thieving clacker wants a Modus, sir. It is their philosopher's stone, a way to conjure gold from empty air! .... I'm no mathematician, but I know there's never been any betting-system that worked worth a damn. In any case, she's blunded into something nasty again." (188-189)

The supposed mathematical dysfunction created in the Napoleon is probably easily recognized by people better at pure mathematics than I -- but I know enough about programming to know that anything resembling the organic world would be massively complex and self-referencing, constantly checking and adjusting untold variables. Suffice it to assume that the program is correct in a way simpler minds cannot comprehend, that the so-called "error" in the Napoleon is actually just un-computer-like behaviour.

Does said effect take 140 years to germinate, culminating in the self-creation of an omniscient artificial intelligence? Well, maybe. The authors certainly seem to hope so. Is the program, in fact, a gambling aid, capable of analyzing probability via game and set theories? Probably not, when you think about it. What kind of conversation must Ada have had with Mick or his clacker associates when the cards were first created? How could knowledge of the program have gotten to such unsavoury characters as the tout and the tart? What are we missing?

Dramatis Personae: Ada Byron.

We meet Ada on Derby Day; she makes no more personal appearances until the very end of the novel. Seemingly either drugged or under much personal strain, she rambles about the mathematical predictability of harmony, and the creation of "marshaled regiments" which "shall ably serve the rulers of the earth." Then she runs off, impish little scamp that she is.

Her next speaking role is onstage in Paris, where her theory loses much of its majesty in being presented so formally. She tosses out a loose reference to Leibniz, who modelled a crank-operated calculator, and seems quite stoic in the face of her own achievements being unrealizable.

I'm unimpressed with the apparent disconnect between Ada's science-oriented mind and the gambling obsession everyone else credits her with. The Modus may very well have been for the purposes of gambling, but I think that, in her mind, being able to predict the movements of horses and dogs is secondary to the ability to predict, uh, everything. She hasn't been painted as a person with such self-awareness -- I think of the long-standing tradition of television characters with the ability to time-travel or see visions to hone in on winning lottery tickets before anything else. (Except in Early Edition. That guy was totally altruistic. He even fed the cat.)

Of course, seeing the entirety of organic movement represented in pure data would maybe "suck the life-blood from the mysteries of the universe," a crime for which she blames the Royal Society. Then again, maybe she means it as a compliment. It is rather hard to tell. Ada's passion seems quite single-minded, narrow of purpose -- I have as hard a time believing the gambling talk as I do the suggestion made by that prostitute of Mallory's that Ada sleeps with whomever she wants in the House of Lords. What I do wonder about is whether Ada's true-to-life mathematical obsession would have survived in this rewritten world.

To be a real stickler about the whole thing: Ada became an adept in the maths and sciences because her father was a philandering sissy, a poet and lover: in other words, an inadequate father figure -- with the added bonus of frustrating Ada's mother to the point of separation. Had Byron instead channeled those passions into politics and power, empowering as he does in the novel a generation of radical thinkers and change-affecters, what motivation would Ada's mother have had to push her daughter into such manly studies? Her unquestioned aptitude would more likely have sat dormant all her life, buried amidst the frills of a high-ranking socialite.

I mulled over this theory-breaker six months ago, when I flipped through a few Ada biographies, but was reminded of it from a trip through Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, trying to identify precisely where Byron and Shelley could've become so politically inflamed, so socially-minded, that they would've borne arms against each other -- or where Samuel Coleridge espoused a Fourierist approach to society -- or why Wordsworth would ever found a church, let alone join an existing one. No luck. As far as authorial "what ifs" go, I'm more unimpressed with Gibson and Sterling the more I think about it. So I'll stop thinking about it.

Iteration the Fifth.

My hero! He's returned!

I love Oliphant. Can't help it. Won't bother apologizing. From his first speaking appearance when interviewing Mallory, when he gazes off into the distance and ruminates on some mystic vision, he makes gallant Neddie look positively one-dimensional. Oliphant seems just as schizophrenic as Ada, then swings back with some admirably self-assured promises of mystery and intrigue. My kind of man.

Reading this iteration brought me to the conclusion that the story in the middle three iterations is entirely crap, and could be mostly removed. Oliphant is our hero and Sybil, via likeable Mick, his catalyst. The stories in the first and fifth, wrapped up cleverly in the Modus, are the true grit of the story. I think what most readers complain of is falling too into the pulpy Mallory bits and ignoring the political affairs entirely.

What's most interesting about said political affairs is that they're comprised mainly of North American troubles, albeit affected by our characters in London and Paris. Europe is nothing more than a pretty tinted filter for those intricate plot developments: Britain's petty uprising during the Stink came to nothing, while the movements of American Marxists and sub-factions thereof are going to have far more interesting repercussions. The depiction of Marxism in the book is going to be worth of its own post soon, I'm afraid, so I'll leave this train of thought here.

I found all sorts of things in this chapter endearing. I loved the sneaky bits with Wakefield and his assorted spies and messengers; I loved Mister Hermann Kriege and the idea of Oliphant as an 'Uncle Larry.' I like the idea of "factions within the Party... Anarchists disguising themselves as communists... covert cells not under Manhattan's control...." I'm baffled by the pantomime, alarmed by the rubber bathtub, and rather despondent about the whereabouts of Betteredge. All in all, an excellent time was had.

(Oh yeah, and there was that evil-men-apprehended-world-turned-to-rights-everybody-rejoice stuff too. That was good, too.)

Dramatis Personae: Lord and Lady Byron.

So, I've got a text file about *yea* long full of half-cocked ramblings on Difference Engine topics various and sundry. I'm getting far too involved in the political maneuverings and double-dealings, as explained in the Fifth Iteration and the Modus -- plus I've startled delving into the reimagined personalities, such as the poets-gone-revolutionaries and the politicians who *would've* been in power had the Rad Lords not taken over. There's really nowhere to start but from the top, here, so let's talk Byron.

With thanks again to Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, I managed to snag a few Byron quotes from some of his major works. While I'd by no means say Byron was a political poet, it's about as possible as it is with any prose-writer that his words could be taken as incendiary mottos. From Childe Harold's Pilgrimage:

"Who would be free themselves must strike the first blow."

"He who ascends to mountaintops shall find
The loftiest peaks most wrapt in clouds and snow;
He who surpasses or subdues mankind
Must look down on the hate of those below."

"Yet, Freedom! yet thy banner, torn, but flying,
Streams like the thunderstorm against the wind."

And from The Corsair:

"Such hath it been - shall be - beneath the sun
The many still must labour for the one."

(Plus, he wrote a poem about Keats after his death! As did Shelley!)

Byron was, in fact, involved in politics, for a very short and tumultuous time. In particular, he defended the Luddite movement in Britain and was pretty rough on good ol' Wellington. While definitely a man of the people, Byron isn't such a fan of machine-labour. I guess we have the Iron Lady's influence to thank for that rewrite. It seems safe enough to assume that, had Byron not died, his budding political fervor would have carried him back into the House in '24.

The issue created in the Modus is of Anne Milbanke, the Iron Lady, not only staying with him after Ada's birth in '16 but actively encouraging him -- then using his power for her own ends. This strategy on the part of the authors was advisable, as not much in the way of historical biography exists to refute the possibility. This insinuation of the Iron Lady as the catalyst for Ada's and Babbage's passions, as as driving force bigger than characters like Byron, Wellington, Shelley, and Disraeli -- well, it's a powerful one for me.

What we do know about Lady Byron is that she held her own political views, including abolishing slavery, and was quite outspoken about them. She was also an excellent student, especially in mathematics. I don't want to run too far into Ada territory on this one, so suffice it to say I'm a huge fan of the Iron Lady coup in the Modus. It's the sort of clever spin you wish hadn't come so goshdarn late in the storyline.