set theory, lie groups, and functors, oh my!
September 26, 2004 2:42 PM   Subscribe

In 1935, a group of French mathematicians came together and published under a single name, with the goal of overthrowing all that had come before: The Rise and Fall of N. Bourbaki.
posted by kaibutsu (6 comments total)
Wiki article. I had more luck waiting for the google cache of kaibutsu's linked article to load than the original page.
posted by Zurishaddai at 4:03 PM on September 26, 2004

I expected the article to be either over the top, either potboiler style ("Modern mathematics was killed! Dead! by those hardass frogs!") or encyclopedic, all-consuming, and dusty (like, some say, the Bourbaki books themselves). But that's an excellent essay. It matches exactly with what I've been told about the history, by people who worked with Dixmier, Godement, and Samuel. Nice link, kaibatsu.

Also, I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that, when faced with the need to jettison its plan to encompass all of mathematics, Bourbaki acknowledged Commutative Algebra as one of the two subfields important enough to deserve its own book. Rawk!
posted by gleuschk at 4:17 PM on September 26, 2004

I like Bourbaki!
posted by homunculus at 4:31 PM on September 26, 2004

This is the first trul interesting post I have read on MeFi in a awhile. Thanks
posted by rosswald at 8:45 PM on September 26, 2004

guess I should actually USE that preview feature....oh well
posted by rosswald at 8:45 PM on September 26, 2004

From the article: France was sending promising young students to the front...

How true. There's no exaggerating the number of men destined for important intellectual careers who lost their lives in those senseless years of death. The equivalent (a literal majority of a country's top-rate university students dying within a few years) is hard for us to comprehend today. Another such crisis hit French sociology. Of Durkheim's most promising students, the expected continuers of his legacy, almost all of them (including his son) died in the war, excepting Mauss & some others. The master himself probably died of grief at seeing the fate of a whole intellectual movement and branch of an academic discipline determined by war.

It's interesting to see what kind of creativity grew out of that in the Bourbaki case. In a "normal" academic setting, there are many factors that tend to stifle something as inspiring as a movement, cemented by personal bonds, to change the discipline. This thing happens rarely, and I don't really think it's because the necessary talents are rare, so much as because the structure of academia exists to serve very different ends.

An interesting bunch, these Bourbaki guys. André Weil, one of the founders, was the brother of the famous philosopher Simone Weil. Serge Lang, now 77 years old, is a brilliant expositor (in his books) of quite difficult mathematical topics, but today his notoriety derives from his opposition to the HIV-AIDS connection.
posted by Zurishaddai at 3:17 PM on September 27, 2004

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