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Reading #18

Discussion questions/keywords/summary from/of:

"Mathematics and Creativity" by Alfred Adler in The World Treasury of Physics, Astronomy, and Mathematics
pages 435-446

Discussion Questions:

1.) Do you agree that mathematics is an "art?"
2.) Alder makes a statement that a mathematician is either great or nothing. Do you agree? He also makes no comment toward women, saying that nearly all mathematicians are "elder sons." What is your opinion on this?


1.) sinecures - A sinecure is a position requiring little or no work but giving the holder status or financial benefit.
2.) sophistry - Sophistry is the use of fallacious arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving.

I found this article to be quite a pompous description of the "hard" life of a mathematician. Alder describes mathematics as the center of intellectual being, where true cerebral power waits to be tested. It is the pure language and the most intellectual and classical of the arts. And in it, if you fail, you will be deemed intellectually inferior to those who have "won," according to Alder. He also claims that after the age of twenty-five or thirty, the life of a mathematician is mostly over. He says that no great work will come of them after this time and that all greatness, if there is to be any, has already been achieved.
He also examines some of the principles of mathematics, namely the fact that nothing cannot be simply taken for true. There needs to be an extreme amount of skepticism.
He also attempts to play on the heartstrings of the readers, making them feel sympathetic to the superior intellect of the mathematician and his inability to communicate his advanced work with the general public. This, as Alder states, is the key reason why the insanity and suicide levels among mathematicians are "probably the highest of any of the professions." He also explains how their genius minds often make them incapable of doing banking, finance, or teaching, things that you would assume a mathematical whiz to be excellent at.