I’m a sucker for mythological stories. Be it tales from Mahabharata and Ramayana, be it fables from the Bible or stories of valor and wit from my Grandma – I love ’em all. No surprises then, that a reference to Ariadne and Theseus in a book by Robert Ludlum sent me running to Google to google up (yes, that’s a valid verb these days) the story.
And once you’ve found what you were looking for, what do you do? You tell the world you found it. Even if the world didn’t exactly ask for it.
Google, being Google, gave me more than what I asked for. A search on ‘Ariadne’s Thread’ brings up, not just the mythology associated with it, but also conceptual derivatives of that story that’s used in today’s world, more specifically as an algorithm for problem solving.
The Mythology: Verbatim from here, ‘coz I don’t see why I should put it in my own words when the existing ones are good enough. Also because I’m plain lazy –
In Greek mythology Theseus was the son of the Greek king Aegeus. King Minos of Crete defeated Aegeus and threatened to destroy his country. Only if Aegeus sacrificed seven young Athenian men and women every nine years to the Minotaur would his kingdom be spared.
Theseus felt it was time to put an end to the sacrifice. When the moment came for another 14 people to enter the Labyrinth in which the Minotaur lived, Theseus offered to go as one of the sacrifices. During the journey Theseus met King Minos’s daughter Ariadne, who promptly fell in love with him.
Ariadne was willing to help Theseus find his way out of the Labyrinth. In exchange Theseus promised to marry her and take her back to Athens. Ariadne gave him a ball of thread and told him to secure one end at the entrance to the Labyrinth. He could then unravel the ball as he made his way. By following the thread Theseus would be able to find the way back to the entrance.
Theseus slowly made his way through the Labyrinth, unravelling the ball as he went. He encountered the Minotaur, and after a struggle slew the beast. Together with the others he followed the thread back to the entrance and out of the Labyrinth.
Now, that is the story. But what Ariadne’s Thread signifies in the real world (as opposed to the mythological world, that is) is a means to make sure you don’t get lost. Be it as a mechanism for tracking your transactions (in a software-centric enterprise) or as a generic means of problem solving involving application of logic to all available paths of probable solutions. To quote from a wiki reference –
It is the particular method used that is able to follow completely through to trace steps or take point by point a series of found truths in a contingent, ordered search that reaches a desired end position. This process can take the form of a mental record, a physical marking, or even a philosophical debate; it is the process itself that assumes the name.
What I understand from the implementation details provided at the above url, this is another algorithm that’s used right from sudoku solutions to applications in philosophy and ethics. Sounds interesting enough to me, which just means I might spend more time going through the maze of material available on the world wide web – maybe I’ll come out of the maze using Ariadne’s thread! Or maybe I’ll just get lost, lose my mind and never blog again. You’ll know in a day or two, ‘coz from when did losing my mind stop me from blogging?!