Search All of the Math Forum:
Views expressed in these public forums are not endorsed by
NCTM or The Math Forum.



Re: [HM] Clifford A. Truesdell, 19192000
Posted:
Aug 13, 2000 11:24 AM


Clifford Ambrose Truesdell, III (February 18, 1919January 14, 2000)
Truesdell's resume, and some selected quotations from Truesdell's writings can be found at Jon Doyle's Gallery
http://www.medg.lcs.mit.edu/doyle/gallery/
For instance, the following provocative quotation from "Reactions of Late Baroque Mechanics to Success, Conjecture, Error, and Failure in Newton's Principia" (p.140) has been selected:
"Now a mathematician has a matchless advantage over general scientists, historians, politicians, and exponents of other professions: He can be wrong. A fortiori, he can also be right. [...] A mistake made by a mathematician, even a great one, is not a "difference of a point of view" or "another interpretation of the data" or a "dictate of a conflicting ideology", it is a mistake. The greatest of all mathematicians, those who have discovered the greatest quantities of mathematical truths, are also those who have published the greatest numbers of lacunary proofs, insufficiently qualified assertions, and flat mistakes. By attempting to make natural philosophy into a part of mathematics, Newton relinquished the diplomatic immunity granted to nonmathematical philosophers, chemists, psychologists, etc., and entered into the area where an error is an error even if it is Newton's error; in fact, all the more so because it is Newton's error. The mistakes made by a great mathematician are of two kinds: first, trivial slips that anyone can correct, and, second, titanic failures reflecting the scale of the struggle which the great mathematician waged. Failures of this latter kind are often as important as successes, for they give rise to major discoveries by other mathematicians. One error of a great mathematician has often done more for science than a hundred impeccable little theorems proved by lesser men. Since Newton was as great mathematician as ever lived, but still a mathematician, we may approach his work with the level, tactless criticism which mathematics demands."
Reference: http://www.medg.lcs.mit.edu/doyle/gallery/truesdell/



