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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: 5 Mathematicians That Built Our World


Without the historical intervention of these five characters, reality would undoubtedly have been very different, and most likely not in a positive way.

Although only the privileged few can gain full access to the realm of mathematics, we can all recognize in its code, perhaps intuitively, a sort of universal language that has accompanied us down the path of our evolution as a species.

Today, we have decoded DNA, travelled to space, built cities and, to a great extent, come to understand nature because of mathematics. And if we have achieved this, to paraphrase Newton, it is because we have stood on the shoulders of giants. The work of great men has propelled our evolution.

With the purpose of paying tribute to these five agents of change that have channeled the language of numbers and altered the rhythm and direction of our collective reality, we now remember their work:

Isaac Newton (1642—1727)

Considered by many to be the greatest mathematician of all time, Newton also explored the fields of alchemy, Hermetism and Arianism. He worked alone and tirelessly to create a new gospel, and interestingly, the mechanic theory he unveils in his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica is the result of a theological search rather than a scientific one. He was one of the inventors of calculus, the first person to fragment colors, and he gave us the first three laws of movement. William Wordsworth eloquently described this genius as follows:

The marble index of a mind forever
Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.

(The Prelude; III, 60-61)

Carl Friedriech Gauss (1777—1855)

Nicknamed “The Mozart of Mathematics”, Carl Friedriech Gauss was renowned for his contributions to number theory and magnetism. In Disquisitiones Arithmeticae he exposed the principles of whole number theory, without which, for instance, we wouldn’t have computers today; binary language (0s and 1s) is based on this theory. His legacy is incredibly rich and is not limited to the sphere of mathematics, but also astronomy, geometry and statistics.

John Von Neumann (1903—1957)

Born in Budapest at the beginning of the 20th century, he finished his doctoral degree in mathematics at the age of 22, and simultaneously received a degree in chemical engineering. Fortunately for us, Neumann designed the underlying architecture for the world’s computers. Shortly before his death, Neumann worked with Einstein and made key discoveries in quantic mechanics, geometry, statistics, and informatics, he was also a vital member of the Manhattan Project.

Alan Turing (1912—1954)

Undoubtedly, he was one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. He made important research on artificial intelligence and developed a system to decode Nazi messages during the Second World War, which helped the allies win the war. Additionally, he was essential to the development of modern computers, and invented the famous “Turing Test”: an artificial intelligence exam that determines if software can have a conversation with a human being and convince him that he is talking with a real person. His contributions to computer science led him to be immortalized in the name of the most coveted award in his field.

Benoit Mandelbrot (1924—2010)

Mandelbrot discovered fractal geometry. In addition to representing the architecture of our unconscious, and the telluric network that underlies all matter, fractals are fundamental to computer graphics and animation. The fractal formula is used to build radio antennae and computer chips. In 1979 he discovered a series of numbers that Arthur C. Clarke described as “the most beautiful and remarkable discoveries in the entire history of mathematics”.

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