1. A Baker’s Dozen 9
years, describes how prime numbers are distributed among the inte-
gers. Although Gauss remained a devout Christian throughout his
life, his study of numbers had nothing in common with mysticism.
For him, both God and number theory were complete and perfect, a
belief which he summed up in his declaration “God does arithmetic”.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Georg Cantor revolu-
tionized the mathematical world. He created set theory which postu-
lated different degrees of infinity. Jesuits used his concepts to derive
the existence of a God to whom an exclusive claim to supreme infin-
ity may be attributed. Cantor immediately distanced himself from
such interpretation, of course. On the other hand, he got ensnared
in daring theological speculations when speculating about the set of
all sets—a concept for which even logic breaks down. It was little
surprise then that his work did not receive universal acclaim and that
opponents sought to ridicule set theory. Leopold Kronecker in Berlin
summarized it thus: “God created the integers; everything else is the
work of man”. An American mathematician added that set theory,
being a theory for God, is best left to God. At the other end of the
range of opinions was David Hilbert from ottingen, the most influ-
ential mathematician of the early twentieth century. He vigorously
supporter Cantor, famously exclaiming that “Nobody shall expel us
from the paradise that Cantor has created for us.”
The many years spent studying objects that nobody had ever seen
before him, and the hostilities he had to suffer, had an unfortunate
effect on Cantor. Throughout his life, he was plagued by bouts of
depression. He spent the last years of his life in a psychiatric clinic
where he died in 1918. The controversy surrounding his set theory
has never subsided.
Number mysticism was not universally derided by natural scien-
tists, even until quite recently. Sir Arthur Eddington, one of the most
eminent astrophysicists of the twentieth century was firmly convinced
that the numerical values of the radius of the universe, its mass and
its age as well as the speed of the light and the gravitational con-
stant had to be in some harmonious relationship with each other,
even though there was nothing whatsoever to justify his assumption.
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