[FOM] Pure mathematics and humanity's collective curiosity

Timothy Y. Chow tchow at alum.mit.edu
Tue Oct 16 14:31:23 EDT 2007

John McCarthy <jmc at cs.Stanford.EDU> wrote:
>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.

Yes, they are wrong, because *all* mathematics/science deserves to be 
praised as "recreational."  Even mathematics/science that seems not to 
have any direct recreational value usually has indirect value, because it 
often indirectly contributes to the recreation of *others* (via 

The people who are obsessed with "applications" are usually the same 
people who regard the production of entertainment (e.g., in the form of 
movies, sports events, or toys) as extremely valuable.  Therefore, if they 
were thinking straight, they wouldn't fall into the error of using the 
word "recreational" in a pejorative sense.


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