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pure mathematics
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File:Banach-Tarski Paradox.svg|thumbnail|right|350px|An illustration of the Banach–Tarski paradoxBanach–Tarski paradoxPure mathematics is the study of mathematical concepts independently of any application outside mathematics. These concepts may originate in real-world concerns, and the results obtained may later turn out to be useful for practical applications, but the pure mathematicians are not primarily motivated by such applications. Instead, the appeal is attributed to the intellectual challenge and esthetic beauty of working out the logical consequences of basic principles.While pure mathematics has existed as an activity since at least Ancient Greece, the concept was elaborated upon around the year 1900,{{MacTutor|id=Sadleirian_Professors|title=Sadleirian Professors|last=Piaggio|first=H. T. H.|class=Extras}} after the introduction of theories with counter-intuitive properties (such as non-Euclidean geometries and Cantor's theory of infinite sets), and the discovery of apparent paradoxes (such as continuous functions that are nowhere differentiable, and Russell's paradox). This introduced the need of renewing the concept of mathematical rigor and rewriting all mathematics accordingly, with a systematic use of axiomatic methods. This led many mathematicians to focus on mathematics for its own sake, that is, pure mathematics.Nevertheless, almost all mathematical theories remained motivated by problems coming from the real world or from less abstract mathematical theories. Also, many mathematical theories, which had seemed to be totally pure mathematics, were eventually used in applied areas, mainly physics and computer science. A famous early example is Isaac Newton's demonstration that his law of universal gravitation implied that planets move in orbits that are conic sections, geometrical curves that had been studied in antiquity by Apollonius. Another example is the problem of factoring large integers, which is the basis of the RSA cryptosystem, widely used to secure internet communications.It follows that, presently, the distinction between pure and applied mathematics is more a philosophical point of view or a mathematician's preference than a rigid subdivision of mathematics. In particular, it is not uncommon that some members of a department of applied mathematics describe themselves as pure mathematicians.

History

Ancient Greece

Ancient Greek mathematicians were among the earliest to make a distinction between pure and applied mathematics. Plato helped to create the gap between "arithmetic", now called number theory, and "logistic", now called arithmetic. Plato regarded logistic (arithmetic) as appropriate for businessmen and men of war who "must learn the art of numbers or [they] will not know how to array [their] troops" and arithmetic (number theory) as appropriate for philosophers "because [they have] to arise out of the sea of change and lay hold of true being."BOOK, Carl B., Boyer, Carl Benjamin Boyer, A History of Mathematics, Second, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1991, 0-471-54397-7, The age of Plato and Aristotle, 86, Plato is important in the history of mathematics largely for his role as inspirer and director of others, and perhaps to him is due the sharp distinction in ancient Greece between arithmetic (in the sense of the theory of numbers) and logistic (the technique of computation). Plato regarded logistic as appropriate for the businessman and for the man of war, who "must learn the art of numbers or he will not know how to array his troops." The philosopher, on the other hand, must be an arithmetician "because he has to arise out of the sea of change and lay hold of true being.", Euclid of Alexandria, when asked by one of his students of what use was the study of geometry, asked his slave to give the student threepence, "since he must make gain of what he learns."BOOK, Carl B., Boyer, Carl Benjamin Boyer, A History of Mathematics, Second, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1991, 0-471-54397-7, Euclid of Alexandria, 101, Evidently Euclid did not stress the practical aspects of his subject, for there is a tale told of him that when one of his students asked of what use was the study of geometry, Euclid asked his slave to give the student threepence, "since he must make gain of what he learns.", The Greek mathematician Apollonius of Perga was asked about the usefulness of some of his theorems in Book IV of Conics to which he proudly asserted,BOOK, Carl B., Boyer, Carl Benjamin Boyer, A History of Mathematics, Second, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1991, 0-471-54397-7, Apollonius of Perga, 152, It is in connection with the theorems in this book that Apollonius makes a statement implying that in his day, as in ours, there were narrow-minded opponents of pure mathematics who pejoratively inquired about the usefulness of such results. The author proudly asserted: "They are worthy of acceptance for the sake of the demonstrations themselves, in the same way as we accept many other things in mathematics for this and for no other reason." (Heath 1961, p.lxxiv).The preface to Book V, relating to maximum and minimum straight lines drawn to a conic, again argues that the subject is one of those that seem "worthy of study for their own sake." While one must admire the author for his lofty intellectual attitude, it may be pertinently pointed out that s day was beautiful theory, with no prospect of applicability to the science or engineering of his time, has since become fundamental in such fields as terrestrial dynamics and celestial mechanics., They are worthy of acceptance for the sake of the demonstrations themselves, in the same way as we accept many other things in mathematics for this and for no other reason.And since many of his results were not applicable to the science or engineering of his day, Apollonius further argued in the preface of the fifth book of Conics that the subject is one of those that "...seem worthy of study for their own sake."

19th century

The term itself is enshrined in the full title of the Sadleirian Chair, founded (as a professorship) in the mid-nineteenth century. The idea of a separate discipline of pure mathematics may have emerged at that time. The generation of Gauss made no sweeping distinction of the kind, between pure and applied. In the following years, specialisation and professionalisation (particularly in the Weierstrass approach to mathematical analysis) started to make a rift more apparent.

20th century

At the start of the twentieth century mathematicians took up the axiomatic method, strongly influenced by David Hilbert's example. The logical formulation of pure mathematics suggested by Bertrand Russell in terms of a quantifier structure of propositions seemed more and more plausible, as large parts of mathematics became axiomatised and thus subject to the simple criteria of rigorous proof.In fact in an axiomatic setting rigorous adds nothing to the idea of proof. Pure mathematics, according to a view that can be ascribed to the Bourbaki group, is what is proved. Pure mathematician became a recognized vocation, achievable through training.The case was made that pure mathematics is useful in engineering education:A. S. Hathaway (1901) "Pure mathematics for engineering students", Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society 7(6):266–71.
There is a training in habits of thought, points of view, and intellectual comprehension of ordinary engineering problems, which only the study of higher mathematics can give.

Generality and abstraction

One central concept in pure mathematics is the idea of generality; pure mathematics often exhibits a trend towards increased generality. Uses and advantages of generality include the following:
  • Generalizing theorems or mathematical structures can lead to deeper understanding of the original theorems or structures
  • Generality can simplify the presentation of material, resulting in shorter proofs or arguments that are easier to follow.
  • One can use generality to avoid duplication of effort, proving a general result instead of having to prove separate cases independently, or using results from other areas of mathematics.
  • Generality can facilitate connections between different branches of mathematics. Category theory is one area of mathematics dedicated to exploring this commonality of structure as it plays out in some areas of math.
Generality's impact on intuition is both dependent on the subject and a matter of personal preference or learning style. Often generality is seen as a hindrance to intuition, although it can certainly function as an aid to it, especially when it provides analogies to material for which one already has good intuition.As a prime example of generality, the Erlangen program involved an expansion of geometry to accommodate non-Euclidean geometries as well as the field of topology, and other forms of geometry, by viewing geometry as the study of a space together with a group of transformations. The study of numbers, called algebra at the beginning undergraduate level, extends to abstract algebra at a more advanced level; and the study of functions, called calculus at the college freshman level becomes mathematical analysis and functional analysis at a more advanced level. Each of these branches of more abstract mathematics have many sub-specialties, and there are in fact many connections between pure mathematics and applied mathematics disciplines. A steep rise in abstraction was seen mid 20th century.In practice, however, these developments led to a sharp divergence from physics, particularly from 1950 to 1983. Later this was criticised, for example by Vladimir Arnold, as too much Hilbert, not enough Poincaré. The point does not yet seem to be settled, in that string theory pulls one way, while discrete mathematics pulls back towards proof as central.

Purism

Mathematicians have always had differing opinions regarding the distinction between pure and applied mathematics. One of the most famous (but perhaps misunderstood) modern examples of this debate can be found in G.H. Hardy's A Mathematician's Apology.It is widely believed that Hardy considered applied mathematics to be ugly and dull. Although it is true that Hardy preferred pure mathematics, which he often compared to painting and poetry, Hardy saw the distinction between pure and applied mathematics to be simply that applied mathematics sought to express physical truth in a mathematical framework, whereas pure mathematics expressed truths that were independent of the physical world. Hardy made a separate distinction in mathematics between what he called "real" mathematics, "which has permanent aesthetic value", and "the dull and elementary parts of mathematics" that have practical use.Hardy considered some physicists, such as Einstein, and Dirac, to be among the "real" mathematicians, but at the time that he was writing the Apology he also considered general relativity and quantum mechanics to be "useless", which allowed him to hold the opinion that only "dull" mathematics was useful. Moreover, Hardy briefly admitted that—just as the application of matrix theory and group theory to physics had come unexpectedly—the time may come where some kinds of beautiful, "real" mathematics may be useful as well.Another insightful view is offered by Magid:

See also

References

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External links

{{Areas of mathematics | state=collapsed}}

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