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Topic: Reading Greek
Replies: 3   Last Post: Nov 25, 1996 12:11 PM

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Durham, John

Posts: 2
Registered: 12/3/04
Re: Reading Greek
Posted: Nov 25, 1996 9:19 AM
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The story about von Neumann is a familiar and precious one. To me, a
non-mathematician looking at mathematical writing, one of the most easily
detectable changes in writing is that which takes place in the years
roughly 1870 to 1940, when the last generation(s) of mathematicians who
grew up with Greek and Latin were finishing their work. The classical
heritage of writing gave people a commonality and a sense of responsibility
in communication which is lacking in much of the writing of modern
mathematics, where to write obscurely is often considered praiseworthy.

On Washington, it's worth observing that only two men who attended the
Constitutional Convention did not have college educations -- Washington and
Benjamin Franklin. It is also instructive to think of the mathematical
attainments of that group, mostly attorneys. One thing they shared was
having spent a lot of time with Euclid; probably their skills at algebra
were not very impressive, especially by modern standards, but they probably
knew considerable geometry and deductive logic. The heritage of logical
thinking and writing, one might speculate, had quite an influence on the
way the Constitution was written and what it said. One wonders if a
generation trained with less depth in logic and rhetoric would have done so

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