Aarhus Universitets segl

New book review by Kurt Møller Pedersen: "The material side of mathematics"

Metascience, vol. 31 (2022): 395-397

Excerpt from the review:

When I began studying mathematics, I was surprised to see small notebooks, along with pencils, lying on the tables in the canteen. During our lunch breaks, we discussed a range of topics, and some of what we discussed, of course, was related to the courses that we were taking, often the lecture we had just attended. The idea of having a pencil and paper on the table was so that we could support our arguments. As a mathematician, what more did you need? A lot more, I soon realized! The department of mathematics had a huge library, with easy access to new and old books and an impressive section of new and old journals. There were also many well-equipped lecture rooms and a canteen, where students and teachers could meet for coffee, lunch and informal parties. All of these material things were far from the notion I had of the ideal mathematician, who needed only a pencil and a piece of paper. In fact, one of the more influential Greek mathematicians, Archimedes, did not even need these two facilities. He drew symbols in the sand with his fingers.

Review of Kevin Lambert: Symbols and things. Material mathematics in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021, 318 pp, $55 HB