The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinityby Amir D. Aczel
Cantor's work, though brilliant, seemed to move in half-steps. The closer he came to the
In the late nineteenth century, an extraordinary mathematician languished in an asylum. His life's work on "the continuum problem" would bring us closer than any mathematician before him in helping us understand the nature of infinity. This is the story of Georg Cantor.
Cantor's work, though brilliant, seemed to move in half-steps. The closer he came to the answers he sought, the further away they seemed. Eventually it drove him mad, as it had mathematicians before him.
A respected mathematician himself, Amir D. Aczel follows Cantor's life and traces the roots of his deeply philosophical theories. From the Pythagoreans, the Greek cult of mathematics, to the mystical Jewish numerology found in the Kabbalah, The Mystery of the Aleph follows the search for an answer that may never truly be reached.
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- Sterling Publishing
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0 HalleBy all rights, Halle should have held some attraction for Cantor, as his family members on both sides were gifted musicians. Some of them had achieved renown in their native Russia. But Cantor was not interested in the charms of Halle. His was a family of immigrants-from the Iberian Peninsula via Denmark and Russia-and young Cantor was pushed to excel. His father, in particular, sent Georg letters throughout the years urging him to do well at school and to live up to the great expectations of his family.
Halle is situated halfway between two great university cities: Berlin to the northeast and Gottingen to the west. During the late nineteenth century, the University of Berlin was the world's best in mathematics, and Berlin was one of the most vibrant and exciting cities in all Europe. Gottingen was the other academic magnet. Like Halle, Gottingen is an old medieval city. Many houses in the town center bear plaques with the names of famous former residents, from Heine the poet to Bunsen the chemist to Olbers the astronomer, and many others, most notable among them Carl Friedrich Gauss (1 777-i 8 5 5 ), arguably the greatest mathematician of the time. Cantor felt the pull of both Berlin and Gottingen.
But Cantor stayed in Halle, waiting for the invitation that never came. Over the years, whenever a mathematics opening became available at Berlin or Gottingen he pinned his hopes on it, and when he wasn't offered the position, he would go into a fit of rage. He had an intense, demanding personality, and an explosive nature. These attributes made him enemies and lost him friends throughout his life. In contrast with his behavior with other mathematicians, Cantorexhibited tenderness in his relationships with his family memhers. While he always dominated conversations with colleagues, at home Cantor took a more relaxed role, letting his wife and children initiate and lead conversations at the dinner table. He ended every meal by asking his wife: "Have you been pleased with me today, and do you love me?"
Cantor started as a Privatdozent, the entry-level academic job at German universities of the time. Within a few years of hard work, he was promoted to Associate Professor, and shortly afterwards a Professor of Mathematics. Cantor became involved in intensive research in mathematics, but in the midst of his most productive period, something strange happened, which put a temporary end to his work. In the summer of 1884, Georg Cantor was struck by deep depression. From May through June of that year he was immobilized-unable to work or do much of anything. His condition distressed his wife and children and perplexed his colleagues, who saw in him a mathematician aspiring to great heights. However, without any professional help or medication, Cantor recovered from his illness and returned to normal life. Afterwards, he wrote a letter to a close friend, the Swedish mathematician Gosta Mittag-Leffler (1846-1927), describing his illness and mentioning that just before the mental breakdown he was working on the "continuum problem."
The following year, 1885, Cantor built an opulent house for his family on Handelstrasse, a street named after Halle's great composer. The house is still owned by Cantor's grandson. It is a two-story building, with high ceilings and tall windows. Georg Cantor's father, a merchant and stockbroker, had died a few years earlier, leaving his heirs half a million marks. Some of the inheritance money went into building the new house and buying furnishings so that the Cantor family could live in comfort...
Meet the Author
Amir D. Aczel is the bestselling author of ten books, including Entanglement, The Riddle of the Compass, The Mystery of the Aleph, and Fermat's Last Theorem. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.
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