Nils Roeller on Tue, 10 Feb 1998 22:04:33 +0100 (MET) |
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<nettime> New member of the community - Simon Singh on Fermat (Review) |
New member of the community - Simon Singh on Fermat Mathematicians will exchange their ideas among each other more than other scientists, because keeping their ideas in secret does not pay off. There is no concurrence in selling their ideas to the industry because the market is simply not interested in pure math ideas. Simon Singh informs about this in his book >Fermat's Last Theorem<. This is the background for the story of two strange characters who were an exception from common behaviour. One is Pierre de Fermat - a french judge living in the 17th century. He could spent a lot of time with math, because of his profession that didn't allow social engagements. Pierre de Fermat teased others like Descartes or Mersenne by informing them about theorems feigning that he could proof without explaining the others how the proof could be done. After his death a theorem remained without being proven. A german industrial captain escaped from suicide because in the night of his planned death he started to clear thoughts about Fermat and number theoretical questions and by clearing math-functions he forgot to kill himself. This Mr. Wolfskehl donated a high price for the proof of the theorem. It was proved in 1993 by Andrew Willis. In the proof he invested seven years. In this time he did not talk to others about his strategies of proofing, because he was afraid that another could steal him his ideas. In the book the story of the theorem is told lively enriched with anecdotes, ranging from the Pythagorian school, female math before Christ and duels in the twilight near Paris. The author - a journalist at BBC - mentions that Willis had at a certain point to start communication, because he saw that so he could avoid errors. Errors were found when a group of mathematicians tried to check the proof. It took Willis more than a year to clear problems found by the checkers and he could do this only in teamwork with Richard Ta ylor. Nevertheless Singh pays big honour to Willis isolated research, and it remains to the reader to decide what is better: to concentrate and to bring science in solitude further on or to remain in the society of others. In his conclusion Singh asks if Willis proof could be the last heroic. Now computing allows a brute force approach to certain mathematical questions and could cause a decay of math. The difference between man-made proofs and computer-based is that man create concepts in the proofs, computers not, says Singh. Although the book is intriguing and helps to connect math-problems with mental images, math-problems will remain after the reading abstract signs that the non-math reader cannot use as concepts. The reader has to study more math to give signs like the Taniyama-Shimura-conje cture or the Kolywagin-Flach-method a conceptual life. Deleuze and Guattari 'kidnapped-masked" Riemanns concepts to talk about polit-aethics, may be after the proof of Fermat a new piracy of concepts is possible. Nevertheless Singhs book is a helpful and readable history of math. Simon Singh: Fermat's Last Theorem. London: Fourth Estate, 1997 German: Fermats letzter Satz. M=FCnchen: Hanser, 1998. Nils Roller Accademy of Media Arts Peter-Welter-Platz 2 50676 Cologne 0049 - 221 - 20189- 226 fax : 17 --- # distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission # <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism, # collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets # more info: majordomo@icf.de and "info nettime" in the msg body # URL: http://www.desk.nl/~nettime/ contact: nettime-owner@icf.de