Monday, April 25, 2005

Monday April 25, 2005

Filed under: General — m759 @ 10:31 AM

Mathematical Style:
Mac Lane Memorial, Part Trois

(See also Part I and Part II.)

“We have seen that there are many diverse styles that lead to success in mathematics. Choose one mathematician… from the ones we studied whose ‘mathematical style’ you find most rewarding for you…. Identify the mathematician and describe his or her mathematical style.”


— Sarah J. Greenwald,
take-home exam from
Introduction to Mathematics
at Appalachian State U.,
Boone, North Carolina

From today’s Harvard Crimson:

Ex-Math Prof Mac Lane, 95, Dies

[Saunders] Mac Lane was most famous for the ground-breaking paper he co-wrote with Samuel Eilenberg of Columbia in 1945 which introduced category theory, a framework to show how mathematical structures relate to each other. This branch of algebra has since influenced most mathematical fields and also has functions in philosophy and linguistics, but was first dismissed by many practical mathematicians as too abstract to be useful.

Gade University Professor of Mathematics Barry Mazur, a friend of the late Mac Lane, recalled that the paper had at first been rejected from a lower-caliber mathematical journal because the editor thought that it was “more devoid of content” than any other he had read.

“Saunders wrote back and said, ‘That’s the point,'” Mazur said. “And in some ways that’s the genius of it. It’s the barest, most Beckett-like vocabulary that incorporates the theory and nothing else.”

He likened it to a sparse grammar of nouns and verbs and a limited vocabulary that is presented “in such a deft way that it will help you understand any language you wish to understand and any language will fit into it.”

Beckett-like vocabulary
from April 24:


Also from Appalachian State University

(with illustration by Ingmar Bergman):

“In my hour of weakness,
that old enemy
tries to steal my soul.
But when he comes
like a flood to surround me
My God will step in
and a standard he’ll raise.”

Jesus Be a Fence

Related material:
The Crimson Passion

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