FOM: f.o.m./TIME Magazine
friedman at math.ohio-state.edu
Tue Feb 27 12:39:02 EST 2001
TIME Magazine published a book titled
Builders & Titans
Great Minds of the Century
TIME Books, 1999.
According to the Foreword, TIME sought to select and profile the 100 most
influential people of the 20th century in a series of special issues of
TIME Magazine. They divided the list into five groups of twenty each:
Leaders and Revolutionaries
Artists and Entertainers
Builders and Titans
Scientists and Thinkers
Heroes and Inspirations
"Noted authorities would be invited to write the profiles of the
individuals named to the list. The entire project would culminate at the
end of 1999 in the naming of a Person of the Century."
Subsequently, Einstein was named Person of the Century.
This volume profiles 20 Builders & Titans, and 20 Great Minds of the Century.
The list of 20 Great Minds of the Century is of the most relevance to the
GREAT MINDS OF THE CENTURY
The Wright Brothers
Philo T. Farnsworth
John Maynard Keynes
James Watson & Francis Crick
Some other figures are featured very briefly under various labels:
MAGELLANS OF THE MIND
PUTTING SCIENCE TO WORK
THE CENTURY OF THE COUNTDOWN
BEHIND THE BOMB
J. Robert Oppenheimer
John von Neumann
John Mauchly & Presper Eckert
Stanley Pons & Martin Fleischmann
Donald C. Johanson
WEAVERS OF THE WEB
According to the Foreword,
"To select the 100 indiciduals, TIME solicited nominations from editors and
journalists around the world, consulted outside experts and historians and
registered opinions from millions of readers who sent in suggestions by
mail and 3-mail. The final seletion was made in a series of occasionally
contentious (but always stimulating) meetings that included journalists
from CBS NEews, which produced a series of television specials on the
Note that of the 20 "Great Minds of the Century", fully 15% worked in, or
are closely associated with, foundations of mathematics! These are, of
Furthermore, Godel and Turing are the only ones on the list of 20 that can
reasonably be said to be mathematicians.
Godel and Wittgenstein are not primarily cited for any role that they had
in the computer revolution. The essence of what they did of a foundational
and philosophical nature apparently captured the imagination of the people
involved in the TIME Magazine process.
With evidence like this, it appears that f.o.m. has had a special impact on
the intellectual culture.
Yet, f.o.m. is not being properly supported in the Universities. It lies
properly between Mathematics and Philosophy, with basic ideas permeating
Computer Science. However, due to the inappropriately disciplinary mode of
operation of the Universities, it survives only in relatively ineffective
forms, modified in order to be palatable to the host Department.
THe remnants of f.o.m. in Mathematics Departments - loosely called
mathematical logic - are not philosophical enough, whereas the remnants of
f.o.m. in Philosophy Departments - loosely called philosophy of mathematics
- are not mathematical enough.
Certainly, mathematical logic is of some interest (not too much) to
mathematicians, particularly when it impinges directly on standard
mathematical topics, and philosophy of mathematics is of some interest (not
too much) to philosophers, particularly when it impinges directly on
standard philosophical topics.
But it is virtually unimaginable that either mathematical logic or
philosophy of mathematics is going to have the special impact on the 21st
century that f.o.m. had on the 20th century.
So what of the future of real f.o.m. in the 21st century University? I see
only two viable alternatives.
1. As a joint enterprise between Mathematics and Philosophy, facilitated by
2. As the leading component of a new Academic structure - Foundational
The problem with the first is that the Mathematics and Philosophy cultures
have grown very far apart, with virtually no common language. The irony is
that f.o.m. could have served as the common ground, preventing the cultures
from having grown this far apart. Also, University Administrations have not
recognized the serious flaws in a Disciplinary approach to University life.
The problem with the second is that foundations of other subjects -
physics, statistics, law, economics, political science, music, psychology,
etc., are comparatively underdeveloped, and consequently much of the
University community remains to be convinced of the effectiveness of the
foundational approach to intellectual life. Foundations of computer science
is perhaps in a more developed state, more readily borrowing from the way
that f.o.m. has developed. There might be something gained, from a
practical view, by talking about "foundations of mathematics and computer
science", or perhaps even "foundations of mathematical science".
We must continue to work hard for these two alternatives. But above all,
there is one thing that we must not do. We cannot think for the moment that
genuine foundations of mathematics - of the glorious kind that had such a
special impact on 20th century intellectual life - is being adequately
continued by current developments in mathematical logic, philosophy of
mathematics, or computer science.
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