Quotation for the week: Whitehead

The mathematician Alfred North Whitehead is best known for his collaboration with Bertrand Russell on the logical foundations of mathematics. In his later career, he became increasingly interested in philosophy, and in his essay Mathematics as an Element in the History of Thought (1925) he attempts to locate mathematics within the wider history of philosophy:

I will not go so far as to say that to construct a history of thought without profound study of the mathematical ideas of successive epochs is like omitting Hamlet from the play which is named after him. That would be claiming too much. But it is certainly analogous to cutting out the part of Ophelia. This simile is singularly exact. For Ophelia is quite essential to the play, she is very charming — and a little mad. Let us grant that the pursuit of mathematics is a divine madness of the human spirit, a refuge from the goading urgency of contingent happenings.

It’s rather touching, but we all know what happened to Ophelia.

(DP)

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