Mathematics: They Will Be Missed

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Chaos theory at work. Photo credit: The Arnold Cat Map via Pokipsy76/Wikimedia Commons


During the past month or so, mathematics lost not only its greatest popular writer, Martin Gardner, but two of its deepest academic thinkers, Vladimir Arnold and Imre Toth [Google translation of French obituary: Arnold was a prodigious and world-famous contributor to the frontiers of the discipline, Toth a brilliant and genial explorer of its heritage to a smaller but admiring circle of mainly European philosophers and historians.] Both were survivors of Eastern European dictatorships; Toth, growing up in Romania and Hungary, survived not only the Holocaust but more kinds of xenophobia, fascism, and communism than anyone else I've ever met.

I started to cut a quote or two from this 1997 interview with Arnold in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society. Impossible. It must be read in its entirety for what it has to say about money, mathematics, politics, Russian and American culture, pure and applied science.

This longer interview with my friend Imre Toth shows how even the most abstract elements of mathematics can be rooted in larger philosophical and political movements.

Finally, don't miss this AMS interview with Martin Gardner.

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Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

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