[FOM] Pure mathematics and humanity's collective curiosity

John McCarthy jmc at cs.Stanford.EDU
Mon Oct 15 15:18:52 EDT 2007

Feng Ye included

Quine and some philosophers following him called mathematics with no
potential applications in sciences 'recreational mathematics'

One might extend that idea to call science without potential
application to human material prosperity `recreational science'.

Both ideas are wrong.  Pure mathematics and other pure science are
motivated by the collective curiosity of the human race.

I benefited when Wiles proved Fermat's last theorem, even though I'll
never understand his proof.  Moreover, the media and the general
public took the same view of it.  There were no editorials suggesting
that Princeton fire Wiles for wasting seven years on FLT when he
might have devoted his time to something applied.

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