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Saturday, May 14, 2005

Alice in Wonderland

There are good chances that you already know about Alice and her Wonderland. Perhaps, you saw the cartoon movie or read the book itself. Or perhaps you were made to read an excerpt from it as part of your textbook.

I read some part of the story during my school days (perhaps in 6th grade). I found it very stupid as it made no sense to me. There was no "moral of the story" that you learn at the end, like other stories for children. But years later I came to know about the author: Lewis Carroll (pen name). He was a mathematician!

I couldn't believe that somebody good at logic could write a story like this. More years passed and I happened to come across a few passages from the story. Here is one for your reading pleasure:

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"

"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.

"I don't much care where --" said Alice.

"Then it doesn't much matter which way you go," said the Cat.

"--- so long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation.

"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if only you walk long enough."

I think this is a very well written anecdote. Some more years passed and I faced an interesting question in my Software Engineering Using Formal Methods course:

Given that
Some pillows are soft.
No sticks are soft.

Which one of these can you conclude?
(a) Some pillows are not sticks.
(b) Some sticks are not pillows.

It's a slightly modified form of a puzzle by Lewis Carroll. It's a very interesting exercise to solve this puzzle. I'll tell the answer in comments and some hints on how to solve such things.

Now, I was pretty sure that though Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (that's the original name) is for children but it's not that stupid. Fortunately, the complete work is available as part of Project Gotenburg.

Lastly, here is another excerpt from the story:

"I couldn't afford to learn it." said the Mock Turtle with a sigh. "I only took the regular course."

"What was that?" inquired Alice.

"Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with," the Mock Turtle replied; "and then the different branches of Arithmetic-- Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision."

"I never heard of Uglification," Alice ventured to say. "What is it?"

The Gryphon lifted up both its paws in surprise. "What! Never heard of uglifying!" it exclaimed. "You know what to beautify is, I suppose?"

What baffles me is, "how on earth do children enjoy this story?" It's really for grown up people who can understand the satire, the logic and the paradox referred to. Now, I really want to meet those kids who like this story and ask them what's interesting in it for them.

Or perhaps, it's the parents who don't understand anything out of it and then think that it might be very funny for their children.

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