Biographical Encyclopedia of Mathematicians - Vol. 1

Biographical Encyclopedia of Mathematicians - Vol. 1

Biographical Encyclopedia of Mathematicians - Vol. 1

Biographical Encyclopedia of Mathematicians - Vol. 1

Excerpt

What is mathematics? The question is surprisingly difficult to answer, perhaps because there are so many answers. The McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms (2d ed., 1974) defines it as the deductive study of shape, quantity, and dependence. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines it as the science of structure, order, and relation. It most certainly is a science, in the sense of being an organized body of knowledge. Unlike the experimental sciences of chemistry, physics, and biology, or such observational sciences as astronomy, however, mathematics emphasizes deductive reasoning over induction from observation, and much mathematics is done with tools no more complicated than pencil and paper. It is also an art, an arena for high creativity where remarkable conclusions are drawn by ingenious courses of reasoning from the most elementary of notions. Mathematics is certainly also a tool, the basis of all technology without which humanity would be confined to life in ramshackle dwellings without the prospect of safe travel or communication outside of local communities and largely without the ability to plan for the future. Then again, it is a language, essential to communicating ideas of quantity, shape, structure, and order. For some mathematicians and philosophers, mathematics is more a game of manipulating symbols according to rules where, now and again, the rules are changed or relaxed to make the game more interesting. Above all, mathematics is an adventure, a part of the universal human experience that has been underway at least as long as written records have been maintained and in which many exciting chapters will be written in the twenty-first century.

Who are mathematicians? They are a surprisingly diverse group covering all nationalities, races and genders, economic classes, and personality types. A few, such as Carl Friedrich Gauss, John von Neumann, and Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujan, are prodigies, recognized as unusual minds early in life. Some, such as the Norwegian Niels Henrik Abel, who died at the age of . . .

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