Prefaces to the German Editions
Preface to the first German Edition
A glance at the Spring 1990 program at Urania suffices to establish that this
Berlin educational institution, with its rich tradition, has provided an astonishing
variety of topics: prehistory and current politics, the humanities and physical sci-
ences, slide shows on the Hindu Kush and medical precautionary advice—all areas
were covered. All but one: there was not a single one on mathematics. When
we spoke with the Director of Urania in May 1990 we wanted to change this and
aimed at dispelling the prevalent prejudices: too hard, too dry, too abstract, too
detached. Whether we succeeded is for those who have attended the more than
50 Urania lectures on mathematics to decide, and naturally for the reader of the
selection that we have assembled here.
Two simple basic principles have guided us in organizing this volume. First:
mathematics is, quite simply, everywhere, for in many cases it is (often the only)
tool for analyzing and understanding the problems. From the CD player to the
stock exchange, from computer tomography to transport planning—it is all (also)
mathematics. Second, mathematics, unlike any other science, is both sides of the
same coin: at once the purest science—thought as art—and on the other hand
the most applicable and useful. This sounds quite different from the attributes
mentioned above: abstract and detached. But would you have thought that the
mysterious prime numbers, which have engaged mathematicians since antiquity,
today contribute essentially to our data security?
These two aspects correspond to the parts Case Studies and Current Topics.
Third, we of course wanted to include several “hot” themes and up-to-date devel-
opments such as the solution of the Fermat Problem and the derivatives formula
which won a Nobel Prize. In addition you will find a prologue written by a science
journalist and an epilogue by a mathematician-philosopher.
Our heartfelt thanks are extended to all the authors for their readiness to
fashion a spoken lecture into written form, a task notoriously harder than one
believes at the start. We also thank Ulrike Schmickler-Hirzebruch of Vieweg Verlag
for her interest in, and support for, the project, and above all Christoph Eyrich for
the professional technical design of the book. The lectures, and now the compiled
book, have brought us much pleasure—and we wish the same to our readers.
Berlin, July 2000 Martin Aigner · Ehrhard Behrends
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