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Monday, September 03, 2007

Mathematics is more than just climbing "the greasy pole of life"

Mathematician David Berlinski muses gracefully on the nature of mathematical genius, while reviewing David Ruelle's new book, The Mathematician's Brain. Taking issue with the claim that"the structure of human science is largely dependent on the special nature and organization of the human brain," he writes,
We do not know how the brain generates its thoughts. If the brain is simply a physical organ, there is no reason to suppose that it has access to any form of certainty beyond the calculations needed to climb the greasy pole of life. If the brain does have such access, then the structure of human science cannot be largely dependent on its physical organization.
Indeed not, for there is the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics.

He goes on,
If "The Mathematician's Brain" does not answer the questions it poses, this is because no other book has answered these questions either. The book's value lies in Mr. Ruelle's description of the curious inner life of mathematicians. Their subject is very difficult. It requires unusual gifts. Physicists may disguise the triviality of their results by bustling about in large research groups. Mathematicians work alone. They are professionally naked.

Berlinski is always fun, and here is much more.

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