[lit-ideas] Re: How long is the coast of Britain?

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 21 Oct 2010 04:18:43 EDT

In a message dated 10/21/2010 12:31:46 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,  
RichardHenninge@xxxxxxxxxxx quotes:
"Their results have varied from 1.02 for the coastline of South Africa to  
1.25 for the west coast of Great Britain. However, 'fractal dimensions' of  
coastlines and many other natural phenomena are largely  heuristic"


Henninge comments:

"make that totally heuristic, essentially, quintessentially heuristic"  and 
continues to quote:

"and cannot be regarded rigorously as a Hausdorff dimension. It is  based 
scaling properties of coastlines at a large range of scales, but  which 
not however include all arbitrarily small scales, where  measurements would 
depend on atomic and sub-atomic structures, and are not  well defined."
Henninge concludes his post:

"The best prophylaxis to brake these hubristic heuristic tendencies is  
Wittgenstein's checker: The world is everything that is the case, and that  
of which we cannot speak, of that we must remain silent. There will be no  
end to the coast of Britain if we start "finding" programmable patterns in  
it. Fractals may alter the length of that coastline, as people change  
people-based impressions, definitions, programs, sentences, but they are 
about to make a new coastline in the world about which we can say, lo, it 
is  the case that this coastline is fractal, without being accusable of 
making a  metaphor, giving 
an illustration, speaking in parables, and being  approximate, and human, 
too human."
Dunno. I for one find it a pity that he (and his associates) limited  
themselves (or theirselves) to the _west_ coast of Britain, which, in my view,  
while exciting, is JUST AS EXCITING as the East Coast (of Britain) and the  
Channel Coast (I HAVE LOADS OF BOOKS on that!). 
In a way, it reminds one of Carroll in "Sylvie and Bruno" -- that German  
chartographer who finds that a scale of 1:1 is best to represent the map of  
England. "But the farmers objected on my spreading the map; their crops 
would  get no sunlight; therefore, they are now using England as her own map". 
I think Mandelbrot's hypothesis is a good one, and it does not strike me as 
 uselessly Kantian. I can speak of ONE PARTICULAR bit of coast that he 
however  seems to have excluded from his analysis. Cowes Week -- as per Cowes 
Regatta. I  have LOADS of maps of that area, and it's the MOST COMPLEX chart I 
have ever  seen. For one, there's the Isle of Wight. 
What are we to do with the Isle of Wight. It was a Jutish settlement, and  
remained thus for centuries. Only LATER it was claimed by Hampshire ("Hants" 
in  the vernacular). Nowadays, since 1974, with the re-distribution of 
shires, it  ceased to be Hants., I think, and got its own status, "I. of W.". 
That is merely  conventional (as in Lewis Carroll, "What's the good of 
Mercator, just a  conventional sign!" -- The Hunting of the Snark). 

But the problem is SAILING that coast. The Cowes Regatta is varied, but  
the MAIN regatta is a small stretch FROM Cowes, in the isle of Wight, TO near  
PORTSMOUTH, indeed in Hants. If you google-map the area you'll see how 
complex  that coast is, and how tricky the currents. 
Now suppose you take a 'round-the-Isle-of-Wight' regatta as part of  the 
Cowes Regatta. Try to just ANALYSE the 'coast' of the Isle of Wight. It's so  
COMPLEX. Mineralogically, and other, it is a VERY difficult structure. A 
coast  NEEDS to distinguish between rocky and sandy, say. High tides and low 
tides.  Bays and coves, and rivulets and mouths (so-called, they are literally 
rear ends  rather) of rivers, etc. There are HUMAN extensions of intensions 
of coasts. The  Royal Squadron, for example, in Cowes, where the Regatta 
originates, cannot  claim to be on the "natural" coast of Cowes, since most 
harbours -- and marinas  -- require a lot of draining work, which may modify 
the coast -- and the  coast-line. 
So, Mandelbrot is INTO something. While he provides 1.25 as the number for  
the west coast of England -- and which would THIS stretch -- from what to 
what?  --, I would love to have a detailed commentary and corresponding 
number for the  ROUND coast of, say, Great Britain.
When I speak of "Great Britain", I speak of Britannia Maior -- as opposed  
to IRELAND (or Eire), which I refer to as "Britannia Minor". I.e. just the 
BIG  British Isle, and its coast. 
When I was reading Finnegans Wake I did a LOT of research on the IRISH  
coast -- also "coast of Britain", if you think of it, and if you want to cover, 
 say, ULSTER. It's SO COMPLICATED. Recall that Joyce starts his work with a 
 description of the coast, as the River Liffey opens to the ocean. THAT 
area is a  bliss, but it's SO COMPLICATED to chart. The usual way of sailing is 
north, from  Liffey, round the coast of Ireland, and back to Liffey from 
the south. But  again, how long is the coast of Ireland (considered "Britannia 
In which case, if Mandelbrot knows that the west coast of Britain -- by  
which he must mean, north of Land's End to Scottish Higlands -- and thus  
encompassing the whole coast of Wales, the Merseyside -- a VERY COMPLEX area,  
and the "Cumbria" coast (post 1974) -- is

I would submit that the WHOLE coast of Gt. Britain may be something  like 
If we add that to the fractal for the coast of "Britannia minor"  (
Eire-Ulster) -- say, 3.6
we get
8.8 -- that's hoe long the coast of Britain is.
This would have fascinated Kant. The noumenon. When he was teaching in  
Russia, he was often asked, "You know the riverside of the Thames so well!". 
His  grandfather was a Brit, and he inherited from him this 'marine' 
extravaganzas.  Consider the mouth of the Thames. Kant could recite ALL 
accidents of 
the coast  in that VERY COMPLEX area (sandy, rather than rocky, and thus 
providing a very  complex fractal to calculate). And when exactly are we going 
to say, "This is  NOT the coast of Britain; this is the INNER THAMES 
alright". We need a  conventional line -- imaginary line. We need to have a 
that indicates -- a  straight line -- 'this is the Thames' and this is not. 
Those lines need two  points. One would be north of the Thames, the other 
south of the Thames.  Downstream it would be sea, upstream it would be river 
alright. And we need to  measure that imaginary line to add to the fractal, 
which will be 8.8. Just to do  that FOR each mouth of a big river in Britain 
does require a lot of (Kantian)  work: think of the mouth of the Humber, or 
the mouth of the Tyne.
Now, with fractals, we can provide definite 'noumenal' statistics and  
measures -- and sail along!

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