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Monday, April 13, 2009

Mad mathematicians

It is a beautiful Easter. What does this mean? Close to a million tourists in our already overpopulated small country. It's not that I don't welcome tourists, on the contrary. But I don't want to meet them today. I have been out early this morning, getting drinks and other groceries and the roads were already crowded. Almost as busy as on an ordinary working day. I want to do something different today though. It is Easter for me too. So I have been searching for documentaries on math. ( I can't give you exact links because Google might ban my Blogger account but seek and you will find. ) Yesterday I found the documentary about the Black Scholes option pricing formula. Today I found the following documentary.

In this one-off documentary, David Malone looks at four brilliant mathematicians - Georg Cantor, Ludwig Boltzmann, Kurt G?del and Alan Turing - whose genius has profoundly affected us, but which tragically drove them insane and eventually led to them all committing suicide.

The film also talks to the latest in the line of thinkers who have continued to pursue the question of whether there are things that mathematics and the human mind cannot know. They include Greg Chaitin, mathematician at the IBM TJ Watson Research Center, New York, and Roger Penrose.

Dangerous Knowledge tackles some of the profound questions about the true nature of reality that mathematical thinkers are still trying to answer today.

Part 1: God’s messenger
The film begins with Georg Cantor, the great mathematician whose work proved to be the foundation for much of the 20th-century mathematics. He believed he was God’s messenger and was eventually driven insane trying to prove his theories of infinity.

Ludwig Boltzmann’s struggle to prove the existence of atoms and probability eventually drove him to suicide.

Part 2: The Enigma
Kurt Gödel, the introverted confidant of Einstein, proved that there would always be problems which were outside human logic. His life ended in a sanatorium where he starved himself to death.

Finally, Alan Turing, the great Bletchley Park code breaker, father of computer science and homosexual, died trying to prove that some things are fundamentally unprovable.

The life of Turing was both fascinating and dramatic. Turing foresaw the profession of computer programmer long before computers were invented. He also won WW2 practically by himself by cracking the Enigma code. This super-hero status was not enough to forgive him the fact that he was homosexual. Instead he got convicted because he was a practising homosexual. He didn't have to go to jail if he took a libido eliminating injection every month. I can imagine that such an intelligent person couldn't live with so much brutality. He died of eating a poisoned apple. He wanted to spare his mother the misery of having a son who killed himself.

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