Thursday, March 17, 2011

Remarks on Reality

Filed under: General,Geometry — Tags: — m759 @ 9:12 AM

Conclusion of “The Place of Pure Mathematics” —

“Dogmas and philosophies, it would seem, rise and fall. But gradually accumulating throughout the ages, from the earliest dawn of history, there is a body of doctrine, a reasoned insight into the relations of exact ideas, painfully won and often tested. And this remains the main heritage of man; his little beacon of light amidst the solitudes and darknesses of infinite space; or, if you prefer, like the shout of children at play together in the cultivated valleys, which continues from generation to generation.

Yes, and continues for ever! A universe which has the potentiality of becoming thus conscious of itself is not without something of which that which we call memory is but an image. Somewhere, somehow, in ways we dream not of, when you and I have merged again into the illimitable whole, when all that is material has ceased, the faculty in which we now have some share, shall surely endure; the conceptions we now dimly struggle to grasp, the joy we have in the effort, these are but part of a greater whole. Some may fear, and some may hope, that they and theirs shall not endure for ever. But he must have studied Nature in vain who does not see that our spiritual activities are inherent in the mighty process of which we are part; who can doubt of their persistence.

And, on the intellectual side, of all that is best ascertained, and surest, and most definite, of these; of all that is oldest and most universal; of all that is most fundamental and far-reaching, of these activities, Pure Mathematics is the symbol and the sum.”

— From a 1913 address by geometry saint Henry Frederick Baker, who died on this date in 1956

The feast of another saint, Patrick, also falls on 3/17.  The date itself is related, if only by chance, to the following remark—

“317 is a prime, not because we think so,
or because our minds are shaped in one way
rather than another, but because it is so,
because mathematical reality is built that way.”

— From a 1940 book by the somewhat less saintly number theorist G. H. Hardy

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