Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics


I was just reading Ulysses for the first time in more than 20 years (actually, listening to the wonderful reading by Donal Donnelly), and among other things I was struck by the extent of Bloom’s scientific interests and speculations. But one other thing that jumped out at me was Bloom’s fantasy, as he is falling asleep, of schemes to raise money to become a country squire. One of those crazy hypnagogic schemes was similar to the scheme that I described as the reductio ad absurdum of financial technology, spending a large part of a billion dollars to reduce the communication time between New York and Chicago or London by several milliseconds:

A private wireless telegraph which would transmit by dot and dash system the result of a national equine handicap (flat or steeplechase) of I or more miles and furlongs won by an outsider at odds of 50 to 1 at 3 hr 8 m p.m. at Ascot (Greenwich time), the message being received and available for betting purposes in Dublin at 2.59 p.m. (Dunsink time).

Of course Bloom, being a sensible chap, puts this on a level with “A prepared scheme based on a study of the laws of probability to break the bank at Monte Carlo” and a plan to obtain riches by finding a lost dynastical ring “in the gizzard of a comestible fowl”. And winning a million pound prize for squaring the circle. And all of this he values primarily as an aid to sound sleep.

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