Dear all:
The noted historian of science in Russia and the Soviet Union, Loren Graham, has joined forces with the French mathematician JeanMichel Kantor to write the book Naming Infinity, which is just about to be published by Belknap Press. It is a fascinating story about the relationship between religion and mathematics in the early twentieth century. In our next seminar, announced below, the two authors will present talks based on their book. As usual, there will be ample opportunity for questions and discussion after the talks. I look forward to seeing you all to this special event.
Best wishes, Finn Aaserud  Niels Bohr Archive History of Science Seminar
Friday 3 April 2009, 14.15 Aud. M, Niels Bohr Institute Blegdamsvej 17, Copenhagen
Loren Graham, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, U.S.A. and JeanMichel Kantor, Institut de Mathématiques de Jussieu, Paris, France
NAMING GOD, NAMING INFINITY: A True Story of Religious Mysticism and Mathematical Creativity
This story combines mathematics and religious heresy, a tale in which Russian mathematicians who were religious mystics (Dmitri Egorov, Nikolai Luzin) triumphed over French mathematicians (Émile Borel, René Baire, Henri Lebesgue) who were secular rationalists. In the early twentieth century mathematicians, following the work of Georg Cantor in set theory, faced a major problem: it was possible to conceive of sets of infinite numbers, sets which resisted rigorous definitions. But was it mathematically sound to work with such sets? Two groups of mathematicians intensively studied this question, the French in Paris and the Russians in Moscow. The French, rigorous rationalists, doubted that such sets were justified; the Russians, religious heretics emboldened by their faith, freely created such sets. The Russians noted that they could not give a definition of either "God" or their new sets, but they nonetheless had faith in the reality of both. They answered the question "How do we know such sets of infinite numbers exist?" in a similar way to "How do we know God exists?": "We know both exist," they maintained, "because we can name both and treat them as real." These Russian mathematicians were called "Name Worshippers" and were a part of a religious heresy spreading in Russia. The French considered such an attitude mystical nonsense, and they lost their nerve to go forward. The Russians plunged ahead and created a new field of mathematics, establishing at the same time the famous Moscow School of Mathematics. And they changed the face of the mathematical world
