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Plato's Ghost:
The Modernist Transformation of Mathematics
Jeremy Gray

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2009

Hardcover | 2008 | $57.50 / £39.95 | ISBN: 9780691136103
528 pp. | 7 x 10 | 25 halftones. 11 line illus. | SHOPPING CART

eBook | ISBN: 9781400829040 |
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Plato's Ghost is the first book to examine the development of mathematics from 1880 to 1920 as a modernist transformation similar to those in art, literature, and music. Jeremy Gray traces the growth of mathematical modernism from its roots in problem solving and theory to its interactions with physics, philosophy, theology, psychology, and ideas about real and artificial languages. He shows how mathematics was popularized, and explains how mathematical modernism not only gave expression to the work of mathematicians and the professional image they sought to create for themselves, but how modernism also introduced deeper and ultimately unanswerable questions.

Plato's Ghost evokes Yeats's lament that any claim to worldly perfection inevitably is proven wrong by the philosopher's ghost; Gray demonstrates how modernist mathematicians believed they had advanced further than anyone before them, only to make more profound mistakes. He tells for the first time the story of these ambitious and brilliant mathematicians, including Richard Dedekind, Henri Lebesgue, Henri Poincaré, and many others. He describes the lively debates surrounding novel objects, definitions, and proofs in mathematics arising from the use of naïve set theory and the revived axiomatic method--debates that spilled over into contemporary arguments in philosophy and the sciences and drove an upsurge of popular writing on mathematics. And he looks at mathematics after World War I, including the foundational crisis and mathematical Platonism.

Plato's Ghost is essential reading for mathematicians and historians, and will appeal to anyone interested in the development of modern mathematics.

Review:

"In Plato's Ghost, he has . . . present[ed] us with an ambitious and in many respects remarkable synthesis of the modern transformation of mathematics via structural and set-theoretic notions, together not only with its logic and philosophy but also with related developments in artificial languages and psychology. . . . I can certainly recommend Plato's Ghost highly as a rich resource and point of departure for readers who want to learn more about this exciting period in the development of modern mathematics."--Solomon Feferman, American Scientist

"This accessible, rigorous volume belongs in every serious library."--J. McCleary, Choice

"In a book aimed at the educated public, the author presents an impressive amount of data--both of the kind mathematicians with some awareness of the history of their subject may be aware of, and of an entirely different kind, coming from the outskirts of mathematics, from philosophy, from physics, or from the popularization of mathematics, which will likely be new even to historians of mathematics."--Victor V Pambuccian, Mathematical Reviews

"It is . . . no small assertion to say that the book under review, Plato's Ghost, is [Gray's] most far-reaching and ambitious work to date. . . . [T]here is a wealth of valuable data here which, if not fully processed and pigeonholed, is at least tagged and cataloged in a helpful way. Plato's Ghost provides an insightful and informative resource for anyone doing mathematics today who has wondered how (and perhaps why) the subject has come to possess the features it has today. The book gives us a lot to think about, which is exactly what a good history should do."--Jeremy Avigad, Mathematical Intelligencer

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