Anna of Arithmetic

This eloquent piece form a Book – “The Advent of the Algorithm” by David Berlinski expressing a contemplation that has prevailed in me.
Why we should we care to read literature ? it also explores underlying relationship between Art & Science..

Anna of Arithmetic


Reading a novel with an innocent eye, students very often lose themselves in its pages, making their decision about the novel on the basis of whether they felt comfortable or at home within its world and more often than not identifying the author with his or her protagonist, every novelist receiving from time to time letters addressed to his creation — Dear Anna, don’t do it. Such is the triumph of art. But such is the triumph of illusion, as well.

After some experience, the student learns to step back, recognizing that Anna, she’s got to do what she’s got to do, and this because what she’s got to do is artistically required. No one reading Anna Karenina is quiet prepared to see her departing the novel, therapist in hand, and briskly getting her life together. A sense of literary sophistication begins when aesthetic standards are substituted for moral judgments. This makes art profoundly amoral undertaking, but a profoundly interesting one as well.

Mathematics is, among other things a form of art. Before Hilbert, mathematicians and logicians had banged around within the confines of various mathematical systems, hoping against hope to arrange the system so that it seemed entirely secure, the effort as doomed as the correlative effort to persuade Anna Karenina to undertake therapy.

Hilbert persuaded everyone to step back. Stepping back, mathematicians saw mathematics for what it might be, a formal game, the perspective cold but liberating. Thus removed from what they habitually did, mathematicians, like students of literature, were forced to ask not whether the Anna of arithmetic seemed nice, friendly, kind of snooty, confused, or otherwise irritating, but whether she made artistic or mathematical sense. A question of judgment had come to replace a question of certainty.

And with judgments come standards. They must, those standards, be chosen so as to reflect the original impulse yielding the decision to distinguish mathematics from metamathematics. And they must, those standards, be standards that can be met by proof, even if it is proof delivered in the meta language itself, for without proof, there is simply no mathematics at all.

©-David Berlinski.


1 Response to “Anna of Arithmetic”

  1. November 18, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    I believe you may do art with a structure percieved to be mathematical however, I don’t believe pure mathematics is an art form. Art is the expression of culture. I believe mathematics is cultureless and universal.


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