Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Subcontinental Platonist

It is not only Europeans, or Christians, or inheritors of the Greek tradition, or those philosophically schooled, who have arrived (semi-independently) at a position of Realism in mathematics.
This, from a most engaging biography of the Indian number-theorist Ramanujan:

In the West, there was an old debate as to whether mathematical reality was made by mathematicians  or, existing independently, was merely discovered by them.  Ramanujan was squarely in the latter camp:  for him, numbers and their mathematical relationships  fairly threw off clues to how the universe fit together.  Each new theorem was one more piece of the Infinite unfathomed.  He told a friend:  “An  equation for me has no meaning unless it expresses a thought of God.”
-- Robert Kanigel, The Man who Knew Infinity (1991), p. 66

For more on the theme, click here:

[Footnote:  To Kanigel's credit, he has a section towards the end which examines even-handedly the possible influences of Ramanujan's spirituality upon his style of math.  The account is neither credulous nor dismissive -- that is all we ever ask.]

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