The Information Structuralist

What have the Romans ever done for us?

Posted in Mathematics, Nuggets of Wisdom by mraginsky on April 20, 2011

In Alfréd Rényi‘s Dialogues on Mathematics, Archimedes says this to King Hieron:

… Mathematics rewards only those who are interested in it not only for its rewards but also for itself. Mathematics is like your daughter, Helena, who suspects every time a suitor appears that he is not really in love with her, but is only interested in her because he wants to be the king’s son-in-law. She wants a husband who loves her for her own beauty, wit and charm, and not for the wealth and power he an get by marrying her. Similarly, mathematics reveals its secrets only to those who approach it with pure love, for its own beauty. Of course, those who do this are also rewarded with results of practical importance. But if somebody asks at each step, “What can I get out of this?” he will not get far. You remember I told you that the Romans would never be really successful in applying mathematics. Well, now you can see why: they are too practical.

I couldn’t help but think of this little gem.