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 G¨ 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.