Archive for the ‘Foundation of Mathematics (FOM)’ Category

Srinivasa Iyengar Ramanujan

March 18, 2017

I totally forgot when was the last time I read a non technical book (that is, prose). Right now I am enduring reading a non technical book about Ramanujan’s life (the Indian Mathematical prodigy/genius):

// __ The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius
Ramanujan, by Robert Kanigel
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Washington Square Press; Media Tie-In edition (April 26, 2016)
ISBN-10: 1476763496

Book, which I would have titled: “The Kid Who Saw Infinity”.

I learned about Ramanujan (Rah-MAH-noo-jnm) when I was in school. My interest in semiotics made me bounce onto him once again (via Jacques Hadamard’s “Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field” > Hardy’s “Mathematician’s Apology” …), this time with the disposition and time to learn more about him:

// __ PAW – Panda Art Works (52:15): Documentary on Math Genius Srinivasa Ramanujam
// __ Indian Diplomacy (50:43): SRINIVASA RAMANUJAN: The Mathematician & His Legacy
// __ shivaraj fathate (1:48:36): infinity Indian Mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan
My main interest being eventually a consciousness study about the dynamics among authors, cultures and societies.

I am putting up with all the paternalistic (yet, very well philosophically, anthropologically, historically framed) cr@p in that book and I am not finished yet, but I wonder what the “explanation” will be for Ramanujan’s unfortunately early death due to health related reasons at 32.

I think it was Hardy’s mistake to charter his friend Neville with his quasi-kidnap to Britain even during WWI, which, as “hospital” as they were, Ramanujan never liked. OK, in those times there was no Internet and all those Royal fellows in Britain were taken aback by that “Indian clerk” no one had heard of and who hadn’t even finished his Bachelor’s and would shun basic school exams (which I find quite extreme, my only way to make sense of this is that Ramanujan didn’t want for anything to interfere between his Mathematics and “the voice of God”); yet, he was bringing the whole field of Mathematics to new and unsuspected heights.

I have lived in a foreign country not as a tourist or “missionary”, but pretending to be “a Roman while in Rome”. There are very true under currents and corollaries to the Biblical: “you are not a prophet in your land”. My predicative coda to that one liner is “because you will always be preaching to the choir of your own belief system”, so, you will never become the proverbial “Roman” as forcefully and illusively as you may try.

It has been repeatedly insinuated in that book (my take) that Ramanujan was basically, somewhat violently cajoled not only by the British but also his own people, into exchanging the b#llsh!t of the Indian caste system (his Brahmin status) for the British (fellow of the Royal Society) one, but what they are not taking into consideration is that that was the kind of sh!t “he knew”, the kind of sh!t he was, the pillars underpinning his consciousness … that even though (especially Hardy would take that as some unbelievably preposterous nonsense) he could not understand when Ramanujan would tell him that he paid attention to, was lead by “the voice of God” … (as some sort of proof guiding him through the paths of his equations).

Britons seemed to have forgotten the kind of guy their most beloved Sir Isaac Newton was. Did he not only keep more extensive notes about all sorts of crazed ideas and topics other than “Natural Philosophy”, but, as a determined alchemist, almost fatally poison himself.

// __ The Strange, Secret History of Isaac Newton’s Papers
I don’t think that author Robert Kanigel is trying to poke fun at the way Ramanujan would strut around in Western shoes …, I can’t help, but feeling viscerally offended, who the preposterous eff are we Westerners to try to “Westernize” him “for the greater good”, as a “‘white’ man burden” kind of thing … Why being “hospitable” to him? Why not just letting him -be-? In fact, letting him be in India, with possible short periods of time in Britain, probably Hardy visiting him there too, would be best for Mathematics, Western society, India, …

When I was in school in East Germany (one of the toughest Universities in Europe even by Western standards (one the 9’s)) I found once one of my friends crying like babies. I could not understand why. Some of my friends were brilliant in Math, but could not adjust to living in a foreign country, adjust to a mindset and ways of living that was very different to the Cuban one (even though both countries were Western and “communist”). Just trying to get used to not seeing the sun at times for a week, not smelling the sea and the long and very cold winters was not easy. On top of that the new language (new languages don’t bother me, only the ones I do articulate ;-)) and the chunk of expected University work one had to produce … would make seemingly tough people “cry like babies”.

Ramanujan Carr Synopsis Loney Trigonometry

Thinking about Mathematics by Stewart Shapiro

July 2, 2009

Thinking about Mathematics by Stewart Shapiro

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (October 5, 2000)
  • ISBN-10: 0192893068
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192893062

comment by hsymbolicus

General comment: good dense read even if at times it looses its pace/appeal and becomes IMO somewhat misrepresenting


  • very dense and comprehensive, in less than 300 pages professor Shapiro gives us a true and detailed account of differing and conflicting theories and methodological isms in the history of Mathematics
  • I generally like the “say-and-exemplify” style of reading for these kinds of subject matters, because there is way more to concepts than simple sentences can express
  • I found myself going LOL sometimes while I read the book, e.g., when author Shapiro said something like that Goedel was not that “prolific” compared to our standards (he meant that he just authored a few papers), but great Lord!!!, some papers by any standards!!! Goedel has been one of these semi-Gods that has brought humankind closer to God . . . how much sh!t can one say when you are that close to God?!? Did he expect for him to turn not only logic, but also physics and along with it the universe upside down?!?

CONS (I guess this was what you were interested in ;-)):

  • He used explanatory comments from the source/main authors of math fundo-philosophical ism’s, some times he uses his own in ways that I found lacking (and here I am using a neutral adj.)
  • Shapiro is a teacher and the book reads like he is lecturing you. Sometimes his style of presenting subjects and section them in paragraphs get to you as micro lessons. I enjoyed a lot more the writing style of Philosophies of Mathematics by Alexander George and Daniel J. Velleman) these authors manage to present the topics true to their matters/without getting “opinionated”, so you don’t hear their voices “louder” than the matter they are trying to explain to you
  • Shapiro’s own philosophical outlook seems to permeate his presentation of the book itself quite a bit (he clearly and “safely” states he does not claim to be unbiased), so your own ideas/doubts may not agree with the ones authored by him and Resnik. Sometimes it just depends on “where you are coming from”; I myself as a Mathematician/Physicist interested in Philosophy and Semiotics do not share some of their views
  • I would have liked if he had shed some more light on the similar concepts that relate to other Sciences, for example, de Saussure introduced the signifier-signified dichotomy in linguistics. I clearly saw a relationship with the type-token dichotomy, with the difference that in linguistics it is clear what is meant, whereas in math philo things get more involved and messy
  • Towards the end of the book he engages the reader with some neuro/cognitive Sciences talk that was so shallow that made me wonder why he included it (probably as an outline to the next edition of the book?) It was hard to tell if he was describing a personal “thought experiment” of contextually explaining some scientifically proven facts. Even though most of what he said made plain sense, given that neuro/cognitive Sciences are a hot and promising research topic and the unprecedented importance it could have in math fundos, there were some issues I think he (or one of his research students) could have spent some more time getting straight/substantiating/polishing (at least with some references)
    On page 282 citing Resnik he writes about some: “‘genetic’ process by which our ancestors (and presumably ourselves) may have been committed to at least small abstract (ante rem) structures” … I think by “genetic” he meant “biologically endowed”, but he is forgetting about the -social- part of these (not that) “ante rem” capabilities we are endowed too. Native American Indians found inextricably odd the count/numbering obsession of the “white man”. Humans lost and grown in the hoods among animals never learn to count, whereas animals/dogs can and do count. I think when parents talk to their new born babies there are lots of “social gens” that they exposed them to.
  • Now, the thing that really annoyed the hell out of me was the obsession author Shapiro has with Bill Clinton, who was cited nominally or indirectly (the “impeached” president this and that …) more than ten times throughout the book in, to me, not only questionable, but also totally off-topic ways that were insulting on a number of counts. Why the f#ck do we need to include politicians in our books?!? Also, I guess he could have included some Republican nonsense as well, while he was at it. Had Rush Limbaugh written a book about math philo and use these examples, fine!, but please!!!, do we need that kind of cr@p in our books?!?

Mr. Shapiro the chess examples were fine, the basketball ones were “acceptable” (just consider some people may not be familiar with what you are basing your explanations on).

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Originally posted Sat, Oct 11 2008 3:35 pm, on sci.math: Book Review: Stewart Shapiro’s “Thinking about Mathematics”