FOM: What is mathematics?

Insall montez at
Tue Feb 19 07:11:21 EST 2002

Let us note something in the recent discussion of rigour:

Vladimir Sazonov wrote, on 2/18/2002, at 12:24 PM:
Say, rigor is not so important in physics, unlike facts,
experiments and general understanding the nature.''

On 2/18/2002 at 9:36 AM, James Robert Brown wrote:
For those interested in the numbers, a significant majority of American
mathematicians (and scientists in general) are atheists or agnostics. If
you focus on "great" mathematicians (= member of National Academy of
Sciences) then the figures are even more dramatic: only 15% are believers.
By comparison, about 7% of NAS physicists and 5% of NAS biologists are
believers. (See Larson and Witham, NATURE , 23, July, 1998).''

Now, ``for those interested in the numbers'', how many members of the NAS
are rigourous and believe, how many are not rigourous and believe, how many
are rigourous and do not believe, and how many are not rigourous and do not

If we want to study the preponderance of rigour among believers and
nonbelievers, should we limit ourselves to the academic population?  Are not
some lawyers rigourous?  (Consider Fermat, if rigour is to be measured in
terms of ability to write proofs of mathematical results.)  Are not some
theologians rigourous?  (Consider Leibniz, who was a mathematician and a
theologian.)  Are there a few rigourous businessmen?  (Consider Bill Gates.)
Are there some rigourous politicians?  (Evariste Galois.)  Is my auto
mechanic rigourous?  Does he or she believe in God?  As academicians, I
think we should at least be aware that on such questions, it is reasonable
to consider a broader population than just the members of certain academic
societies to support arguments in discussions of this nature - if we think
it is a worthwhile activity to pursue such a discussion or argument.

Matt Insall

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