From Kant to Hilbert (1996)
Context: As for the mathematical infinite, to the extent that it has found a justified application in science and contributed to its usefulness, it seems to me that it has hitherto appeared principally in the role of a variable quantity, which either grows beyond all bounds or diminishes to any desired minuteness, but always remains finite. I call this the improper infinite [das Uneigentlich-unendliche].
Georg Cantor quotes
Birthdate: 19. February 1845
Date of death: 6. January 1918
Georg Ferdinand Ludwig Philipp Cantor was a German mathematician. He created set theory, which has become a fundamental theory in mathematics. Cantor established the importance of one-to-one correspondence between the members of two sets, defined infinite and well-ordered sets, and proved that the real numbers are more numerous than the natural numbers. In fact, Cantor's method of proof of this theorem implies the existence of an "infinity of infinities". He defined the cardinal and ordinal numbers and their arithmetic. Cantor's work is of great philosophical interest, a fact he was well aware of.Cantor's theory of transfinite numbers was originally regarded as so counter-intuitive – even shocking – that it encountered resistance from mathematical contemporaries such as Leopold Kronecker and Henri Poincaré and later from Hermann Weyl and L. E. J. Brouwer, while Ludwig Wittgenstein raised philosophical objections. Cantor, a devout Lutheran, believed the theory had been communicated to him by God. Some Christian theologians saw Cantor's work as a challenge to the uniqueness of the absolute infinity in the nature of God – on one occasion equating the theory of transfinite numbers with pantheism – a proposition that Cantor vigorously rejected.
The objections to Cantor's work were occasionally fierce: Leopold Kronecker's public opposition and personal attacks included describing Cantor as a "scientific charlatan", a "renegade" and a "corrupter of youth". Kronecker objected to Cantor's proofs that the algebraic numbers are countable, and that the transcendental numbers are uncountable, results now included in a standard mathematics curriculum. Writing decades after Cantor's death, Wittgenstein lamented that mathematics is "ridden through and through with the pernicious idioms of set theory", which he dismissed as "utter nonsense" that is "laughable" and "wrong". Cantor's recurring bouts of depression from 1884 to the end of his life have been blamed on the hostile attitude of many of his contemporaries, though some have explained these episodes as probable manifestations of a bipolar disorder.The harsh criticism has been matched by later accolades. In 1904, the Royal Society awarded Cantor its Sylvester Medal, the highest honor it can confer for work in mathematics. David Hilbert defended it from its critics by declaring, "No one shall expel us from the paradise that Cantor has created."
Quotes Georg Cantor
From Kant to Hilbert (1996)
„I have never proceeded from any Genus supremum of the actual infinite. Quite the contrary, I have rigorously proved that there is absolutely no Genus supremum of the actual infinite. What surpasses all that is finite and transfinite is no Genus; it is the single, completely individual unity in which everything is included, which includes the Absolute, incomprehensible to the human understanding. This is the Actus Purissimus, which by many is called God.“
As quoted in Out of the Mouths of Mathematicians : A Quotation Book for Philomaths (1993) by Rosemary Schmalz.
Context: I have never proceeded from any Genus supremum of the actual infinite. Quite the contrary, I have rigorously proved that there is absolutely no Genus supremum of the actual infinite. What surpasses all that is finite and transfinite is no Genus; it is the single, completely individual unity in which everything is included, which includes the Absolute, incomprehensible to the human understanding. This is the Actus Purissimus, which by many is called God.
I am so in favor of the actual infinite that instead of admitting that Nature abhors it, as is commonly said, I hold that Nature makes frequent use of it everywhere, in order to show more effectively the perfections of its Author. Thus I believe that there is no part of matter which is not — I do not say divisible — but actually divisible; and consequently the least particle ought to be considered as a world full of an infinity of different creatures.
As quoted in Understanding the Infinite (1994) by Shaughan Lavine
Context: The transfinite numbers are in a certain sense themselves new irrationalities and in fact in my opinion the best method of defining the finite irrational numbers is wholly dissimilar to, and I might even say in principle the same as, my method described above of introducing transfinite numbers. One can say unconditionally: the transfinite numbers stand or fall with the finite irrational numbers; they are like each other in their innermost being; for the former like the latter are definite delimited forms or modifications of the actual infinite.
„My theory stands as firm as a rock; every arrow directed against it will return quickly to its archer.“
As quoted in Journey Through Genius (1990) by William Dunham
Context: My theory stands as firm as a rock; every arrow directed against it will return quickly to its archer. How do I know this? Because I have studied it from all sides for many years; because I have examined all objections which have ever been made against the infinite numbers; and above all because I have followed its roots, so to speak, to the first infallible cause of all created things.
„The totality of all alephs cannot be conceived as a determinate, well-defined, and also a finished set.“
Letter to David Hilbert (2 October 1897)
Context: The totality of all alephs cannot be conceived as a determinate, well-defined, and also a finished set. This is the punctum saliens, and I venture to say that this completely certain theorem, provable rigorously from the definition of the totality of all alephs, is the most important and noblest theorem of set theory. One must only understand the expression "finished" correctly. I say of a set that it can be thought of as finished (and call such a set, if it contains infinitely many elements, "transfinite" or "suprafinite") if it is possible without contradiction (as can be done with finite sets) to think of all its elements as existing together, and to think of the set itself as a compounded thing for itself; or (in other words) if it is possible to imagine the set as actually existing with the totality of its elements.
„Mathematics is in its development entirely free and is only bound in the self-evident respect that its concepts must both be consistent with each other, and also stand in exact relationships, ordered by definitions, to those concepts which have previously been introduced and are already at hand and established.“
From Kant to Hilbert (1996)
Context: Mathematics is in its development entirely free and is only bound in the self-evident respect that its concepts must both be consistent with each other, and also stand in exact relationships, ordered by definitions, to those concepts which have previously been introduced and are already at hand and established. In particular, in the introduction of new numbers, it is only obligated to give definitions of them which will bestow such a determinacy and, in certain circumstances, such a relationship to the other numbers that they can in any given instance be precisely distinguished. As soon as a number satisfies all these conditions, it can and must be regarded in mathematics as existent and real.
As quoted in Journey Through Genius (1990) by William Dunham ~
Context: This view [of the infinite], which I consider to be the sole correct one, is held by only a few. While possibly I am the very first in history to take this position so explicitly, with all of its logical consequences, I know for sure that I shall not be the last!
„That from the outset they expect or even impose all the properties of finite numbers upon the numbers in question, while on the other hand the infinite numbers, if they are to be considered in any form at all, must (in their contrast to the finite numbers) constitute an entirely new kind of number, whose nature is entirely dependent upon the nature of things and is an object of research, but not of our arbitrariness or prejudices.“
Letter to Gustac Enestrom, as quoted in Georg Cantor : His Mathematics and Philosophy of the Infinite (1990) by Joseph Warren Dauben ~ ISBN 0691024472
As quoted in Infinity and the Mind (1995) by Rudy Rucker. ~ ISBN 0691001723
„What I assert and believe to have demonstrated in this and earlier works is that following the finite there is a transfinite (which one could also call the supra-finite), that is an unbounded ascending ladder of definite modes, which by their nature are not finite but infinite, but which just like the finite can be determined by well-defined and distinguishable numbers.“
As quoted in Understanding the Infinite (1994) by Shaughan Lavine ~ ISBN 0674921178
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„Had Mittag-Leffler had his way, I should have to wait until the year 1984, which to me seemed too great a demand!“
Letter (1885), written after Gösta Mittag-Leffler persuaded him to withdraw a submission to Mittag-Leffler's journal Acta Mathematica, telling him it was "about one hundred years too soon."
„If there is some determinate succession of defined whole real numbers, among which there exists no greatest, on the basis of this second principle of generation a new number is obtained which is regarded as the limit of those numbers, i. e. is defined as the next greater number than all of them.“
From Kant to Hilbert (1996)
„Every transfinite consistent multiplicity, that is, every transfinite set, must have a definite aleph as its cardinal number.“
Letter to Richard Dedekind (1899), as translated in From Frege to Gödel : A Source Book in Mathematical Logic, 1879-1931 (1967) by Jean Van Heijenoort, p. 117
Doctoral thesis (1867); variant translation: In mathematics the art of proposing a question must be held of higher value than solving it.
Original: (la) In re mathematica ars proponendi quaestionem pluris facienda est quam solvendi.
„The fear of infinity is a form of myopia that destroys the possibility of seeing the actual infinite, even though it in its highest form has created and sustains us, and in its secondary transfinite forms occurs all around us and even inhabits our minds.“
As quoted in Infinity and the Mind (1995) by Rudy Rucker.
„The old and oft-repeated proposition "Totum est majus sua parte" [the whole is larger than the part] may be applied without proof only in the case of entities that are based upon whole and part; then and only then is it an undeniable consequence of the concepts "totum" and "pars". Unfortunately, however, this "axiom" is used innumerably often without any basis and in neglect of the necessary distinction between "reality" and "quantity", on the one hand, and "number" and "set", on the other, precisely in the sense in which it is generally false.“
"Über unendliche, lineare Punktmannigfaltigkeiten" in Mathematische Annalen 20 (1882) <!-- pp 113-121 --> Quoted in "Cantor's Grundlagen and the paradoxes of Set Theory" by William W. Tait
„I entertain no doubts as to the truths of the transfinites, which I recognized with God’s help and which, in their diversity, I have studied for more than twenty years; every year, and almost every day brings me further in this science.“
As quoted in Modern Mathematicians, (1995) by Harry Henderson. ~ ISBN 0816032351
„I realize that in this undertaking I place myself in a certain opposition to views widely held concerning the mathematical infinite and to opinions frequently defended on the nature of numbers.“
Grundlagen einer allgemeinen Mannigfaltigkeitslehre [Foundations of a General Theory of Aggregates] (1883)
Er ist aber in Kopenhagen geboren, von israelitischen Eltern, die der dortigen portugisischen Judengemeinde.
Of his father. In a letter written by Georg Cantor to Paul Tannery in 1896 (Paul Tannery, Memoires Scientifique 13 Correspondance, Gauthier-Villars, Paris, 1934, p. 306)