Mathematics as well as mathematicians have always been and will continue to be esoteric stuff for the world. The unrivaled acumen of these mysterious characters have always enamored the world. Though most of us can’t decipher what they are indeed saying, still the dexterity of these people is in itself no less than a wonder to be flabbergasted about. And it remains true that only a true mathematician can handle the enticing beauty of mathematics. But with a deluge of genius comes many other problems. The world just doesn’t understand them. Having no other person of comparable mettle around, they have to live a life of loneliness. A harrowing insularity that many a time crushes them from inside. Sometimes, the world too is so much harsh on them. It just can’t accept the sagacity of these people who are certainly thinking far ahead of their time. Consequently, leading them to miserable ends. Here’s a list of mathematicians that had miserable ends.
Here are those four mathematicians who had to live miserable lives and have miserable ends due to their ruthless critics who just couldn’t understand that the brilliance of these people was not less than a God gifted clairvoyance.
1. Georg Cantor, the engrossed mathematician
Set theory, functions and modern algebra are the mathematics of future. The mathematics which once sounded prosaic and futile to many ears has now taken the helm of the world affairs. Our computer systems, machines, servers are based on the developments of set theory. In fact, your bank cheque, airline tickets, and Rubik’s cube all work on this theory. Cantor is the father of it all, the inventor of Set Theory and one of the few mathematicians with miserable ends.
The arrival of Bad Times
Cantor had always believed that there was a secret voice that compelled him to join mathematics. When he was a young boy, his father had sent him a letter in which he asked Cantor to become “great” for his family. Cantor kept this letter in his pocket for the rest of his life and hence resolved to become ‘great’ and to never give up.
Things changed considerably when Cantor tried to touch upon the ‘unsacred grail’ of mathematics – the infinity. Mathematicians at that time abhorred infinity for its uncertainty and hence nobody was ready to look at it. But, Cantor always thought of himself as the God’s messenger, meant to tell the world the secrets of God. Hence, he started work on infinity.
The only mistake that he committed was that he went so much deep into the concept that there remained no point of recuperation. One day he would prove it, the other day he would tear away his results and start back up again. Moreover, attacks from colleagues intensified. Leopold Kronecker called him “the corrupter of youth” and “the scientific charlatan”.
All this led to a total nervous breakdown. Cantor considered himself guilty of not living up to his father’s wishes and to ‘the secret voice’. Whenever Cantor would start recuperating, he would again take up his theory and again plunge down into the psychological disorders. The final blow came when his 13-year-old son died. Just like Cantor, his son Rudolph had great musical talent. Cantor left his exceptional musical talent to pursue Mathematics, but he wanted Rudolph to become an unparalleled musician so that Cantor could live with his son. But, his this wish too faded into nothingness.
Following these bouts of illness and depression never left hold of him. In the last years of his life, he suffered in malnourishment, misery, and poverty and died a lonely death in a sanatorium.
2. Evariste Galois, the oblivious mathematician
Born on October 25, 1811, near Paris, Galois was a man of incredible intelligence. By the age of 15, he had mastered the mathematics of his age. Yet he failed to get admission in the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique institute because he was habitual of solving all the questions in his head rather than on sheets of paper. At 18, he wrote an important paper on the theory of equations and gave it to the French Academy of Sciences for publication. Cauchy, the biggest mathematician of that age, loved the research paper and promised present it to the Academy. Unfortunately, he never fulfilled his promise. At the age of 19, he enrolled in the biggest mathematics contest for the Grand Prize in mathematics and gave another research paper to Fourier, another great mathematician. Fourier died shortly after, and with his death, the research paper also faded into destruction.
The arrival of the Bad Times
After some time he was in jail for revolutionary political offenses. There he wrote a book of 60 pages which included famous constructability theorems, trisection of arbitrary angles, abstract algebra etc.
While in prison, Galois, one of the greatest mathematicians with miserable ends, had prophesized that he will die in a duel, the very next day, a duel followed and he succumbed to a fatal shot.
Eric Temple Bell has written in his book “Men of Mathematics”, mentioning Galois who was one of the mathematicians with miserable ends, “Galois at seventeen was making discovering of epochal significance in theory of equations, discovering whose consequences are not yet exhausted after more than a century.”
3. Alan Mathison Turing, the enigmatic mathematician
Have you ever signed in to any website? You must have been forced to type the “CAPTCHA” correct to tell that you are not a bot. The full form of CAPTCHA is “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”. While CAPTCHA was only invented in 1997, its base i.e. the reverse Turing test was designed in 1950 by British computer scientist, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher and theoretical biologist. It was Turing himself who found the deciphering setting of the deadly “Enigma machine”, broke up Nazi codes during the WWII. His indispensable inputs regarding the Battle of the Atlantic and many other codes played a tremendous role in the Allies victory in the WWII.
Apart from cryptography, he worked in mathematical biology, chemical reactions, morphogenesis and many other fields of science. In fact, he was the first person to devise the first computer chess program. Unfortunately, this is one of the many mathematicians who only got hatred in return for his exceptional contribution to the mankind.
In 1952, the British government persecuted Turing, one of the greatest mathematicians with miserable ends, for his homosexuality. To escape incarceration, he opted castration. But this didn’t stop people from rebuking him due to his sexual orientation. When the admonitions became unbearable, Turing committed suicide in the year 1954. An inquest into his death corroborated that it was suicide.
4. Galileo Galilei, the master Mathematician
Though the story of Galileo is famous, still most of us just don’t appreciate this man’s genius and this man’s pain. Galileo has been the biggest scientist in the world till now. He was a mathematician, physicist, astronomer, engineer, and philosopher.
Galileo’s father was an accomplished lutenist. Galileo and his brother Michaelangelo were had also accomplishments. Initially, Galileo was deliberately kept away from learning mathematics. At that time, physicians were paid better than mathematicians and hence his father wanted him to become a physician. One day incidentally, he attended a lecture on geometry and the flair for mathematics kicked in. Galileo talked about his wish to become a mathematician with his father. Initially his father proscribed but finally, he agreed to let Galileo do whatever he wanted.
Galileo went on to make every kind of discovery. He made pendulums, thermoscope; worked on speed, velocity, zero gravity, kinematics; wrought distinguished works on numbers, geometry, and astronomy. Soon after Galileo’s father died, the responsibility to pay dowry his brother-in-law fell on the shoulders of Galileo and his brother. Since his brother couldn’t afford to pay much and he had promised his father that he would take care of him, Galileo had to bear his expenses also. Thus, he was always in need to make new inventions. It was not only a passion, it was a necessity.
The list of mathematicians with miserable ends is incomplete without Galileo. When Galileo started diving deep into the unsearched realms of science, he countered church. Chuch viewed heliocentrism as a threat to religion. It deems this as an offense against the bible and Galileo was brand as a traitor to the religion and a heretic. Being a religious Roman Catholic, these were piercing allegations for Galileo. Still, he continued his research. Galileo followed what he said, “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”
Later Galileo had to recant his theory of heliocentrism. Church stripped him of the right to write anything and placed him under house arrest where he died suffering fever and heart palpitations. It was found that he had scratch “E pur si muove” on his prison’s wall. “E pur si muove” literally meant “And yet, it moves”, the rebellious words he said just after recanting his heliocentric theory.
In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.
Ignorance of the society made the lives of these great mathematicians to have miserable ends. Their logic was ‘far too soon’ for the world, but the pain inflicted on them can never be the gauge. We can just pray that they are resting in peace and that no other man of genius would be made to undergo such termination.
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