George Frederick James Temple

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George Frederick James Temple (December 2, 1901-January 30, 1992) was an English mathematician. He was President of the London Mathematical Society in the years 1951-1953 and recipient of the Sylvester Medal in 1969.


100 Years of Mathematics: a Personal Viewpoint (1981)[edit]

George Frederick James Temple, 100 Years of Mathematics: a Personal Viewpoint (1981)

  • Ninety per cent of all the mathematics we know has been discovered (or invented), in the last hundred years... the advances made in each of some dozen directions are converging into one single discipline uniting algebra, topology and analysis.
  • During this century mathematics has been transformed...
  • The professional mathematician can scarcely avoid specialization and needs to transcend his private interests and take a wide synoptic view of the whole landscape of contemporary mathematics. His scientific colleagues are continually seeking enlightenment on the relevance of mathematical abstractions. The undergraduate needs a guidebook to the topography of the immense and expanding world of mathematics. There seems to be only one way to satisfy these varied interests... a concise historical account of the main currents... Only by a study of the development of mathematics can its contemporary significance be understood.
  • The brilliant summaries by Bourbaki (1969) and Weyl (1951)... set a high standard of exposition, but... there is room for a history of mathematical ideas which will demand less mathematical expertise and offer a more detailed account of the motivation of research.
  • This book... is primarily and essentially an account of the discovery or invention of mathematical concepts, and the historical material is... divided and classified, neither chronologically nor biographically, but philosophically.
  • From Pythagoras to Boethius, when pure mathematics consisted of arithmetic and geometry while applied mathematics consisted of music and astronomy, mathematics could be characterized as the deductive study of 'such abstractions as quantities and their consequences, namely figures and so forth' (Acquinas ca. 1260). But since the emergence of abstract algebra it has become increasingly difficult to formulate a definition to cover the whole of the rich, complex and expanding domain of mathematics.
  • The subject matter of mathematics has increased so rapidly and extensively that there is some element of truth in maintaining that mathematics is not so much a subject as a way of studying any subject, not so much a science as a way of life. We turn, then, from the attempt to characterize the material object of mathematics to an attempt to determine its formal object, i.e., its methodology.
  • The concept of 'number' in its most elementary sense as the signless integer appears to be an immediate abstraction from quantitative reality subjected to processes of counting and measurement. Vulgar fractions arise from division of a quantity into equal parts. But in what sense is zero a number? Are there negative numbers? Are there numbers corresponding to incommensurable ratios? Each question requires for its solution a fresh exercise of that kind of creative imagination which we call mathematical abstraction.
  • At each stage of in the advance of mathematical thought the outstanding characteristics are novelty and originality. That is why mathematics is such a delight to study, such a challenge to practise and such a puzzle to define.
  • There is the definition [of mathematics], boldly proposed by Pierce that 'Mathematics is the science which draws necessary conclusions', and more explicitly formulated by Russel that 'Pure Mathematics is the class of all propositions of the form "p implies q"... it was... the purpose of Russell's treatise to provide a complete, exact and convincing justification of this definition... instead, he and Whitehead collaborated to give a magisterial account of the Principia Mathematica.
  • The function of logic in mathematics is critical rather than constructive.
  • Logical analysis is indispensable for an examination of the strength of a mathematical structure, but it is useless for its conception and design. The great advances in mathematics have not been made by logic but by creative imagination.
  • Pure mathematics is much more than an armoury of tools and techniques for the applied mathematician. On the other hand, the pure mathematician has ever been grateful to applied mathematics for stimulus and inspiration. From the vibrations of the violin string they have drawn enchanting harmonies of Fourier Series, and to study the triode valve they have invented a whole theory of non-linear oscillations.
  • The 'language theory' is inadequate as a description of the nature of mathematics.
  • Mathematical activity has taken the forms of a science, a philosophy and an art.
  • As a science mathematics has been adapted to the description of natural phenomena, and the great practitioners in this field... have never concerned themselves with the logical foundations of mathematics, but have boldly taken a pragmatic view of mathematics as an intellectual machine which works successfully. Description has been verified by further observation, still more strikingly be prediction, and sometimes, more ominously, by control of natural forces. Happily, unresolved problems... still remain as challenges.
  • Mathematics has also been developed as a philosophy, in the sense in which this term is defined by A.N. Whitehead as 'the endeavor to frame a coherent, logical and necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted'. Substitute 'mathematics' for 'experience' and we have an admirable description of its speculative and philosophic development. ...Philosophy of mathematics... has its paradoxes and antimonies, and also diverse schools of thought...
  • For the great majority of mathematicians, mathematics is... a whole world of invention and discovery—an art. The construction of a new theorem, the intuition of some new principle, or the creation of a new branch of mathematics is the triumph of the creative imagination of the mathematician, which can be compared to that of a poet, the painter and the sculptor.
  • Most mathematicians are by nature Platonists who cheerfully, unreflectingly and habitually employ such loaded phrases as 'We assume there exists...' or 'Therefore there exists...' an entity with such and such characteristics. Challenged by the realist they would probably reply that since the truths of mathematics are absolute, universal and eternal it is hard indeed to deny them an existence independent of human intelligence.
  • What would geometry be without Gauss, mathematical logic without Boole, algebra without Hamilton, analysis without Cauchy?
  • The history of mathematics throws little light on the psychology of mathematical invention.

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