In 1860’s, the field of mathematics was changing. It was being pushed to the limits, reinterpreted and rewritten. A professor of mathematics at Oxford University named Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was particularly unsettled.
Dodgson, a conservative Euclidean mathematician and logician, was comfortable with his 2,000 year old theories on numbers but perplexed and offended by the loose mathematical reasoning and newly applied concepts such as imaginary numbers, Kantian logic, and projective geometry.
So, when Dodgson wrote a children’s book under his pen name, Lewis Carrol, in 1865, titled “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, the story became an allegory for his experience in the new non-nonsensical world of mathematics. The protagonist, Alice, represents the exasperated author who feels he’s just fallen down the rabbit hole himself.
To disorient the reader while spiking interest in his plight, Dodgson sews complex riddles and logic problems into “Alice”. In addition, his story includes many seemingly ridiculous changes in shape and proportion. Whether it be Alice’s size management, the Cheshire Cat’s grinning transformation, or the Duchess’s baby-turned-pig, the changes exhibit Dodgson’s frustrations on proportion purported by the new theories on internal logic.
Later in the story at the tea-party, the Hatter, the Hare and the Dormouse seem to rotate ad infinitum on a plane around the tea table simply because the absence of time. Even the erratic and violent Queen of Hearts may even simply represent an irrational number through a pun on “axes”, which is the plural of axis on a graph.
Although Dodgson never came out in the open and admitted that “Alice’s Adventures” was a satire of 19th century mathematics, many find the coincidences too obvious to ignore.