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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/522

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

arisen in connection with the applications of geometry to purposes of graphical representation. It is not necessary to dwell on the great assistance which this method has rendered in such subjects as physics and engineering. The pure mathematician, for his part, will freely testify to the influence which it has exercised in the development of most branches of analysis; for example, we owe to it all the leading ideas of the calculus. Modern analysts have discovered, however, that geometry may be a snare as well as a guide. In the mere act of drawing a curve to represent an analytical function we make unconsciously a host of assumptions which are difficult not merely to prove, but even to formulate precisely. It is now sought to establish the whole fabric of mathematical analysis on a strictly arithmetical basis. To those who were trained in an earlier school, the results so far are in appearance somewhat forbidding. If the shade of one of the great analysts of a century ago could revisit the glimpses of the moon, his feelings would, I think, be akin to those of the traveler to some medieval town, who finds the buildings he came to see obscured by scaffolding, and is told that the ancient monuments are all in process of repair. It is to be hoped that a good deal of this obstruction is only temporary, that most of the scaffolding will eventually be cleared away, and that the edifices when they reappear will not be entirely transformed, but will still retain something of their historic outlines. It would be contrary to the spirit of this address to undervalue in any way the critical examination and revision of principles; we must acknowledge that it tends ultimately to simplification, to the clearing up of issues, and the reconciliation of apparent contradictions. But it would be a misfortune if this process were to absorb too large a share of the attention of mathematicians, or were allowed to set too high a standard of logical completeness. In this particular matter of the 'arithmetization of mathematics' there is, I think, a danger in these respects. As regards the latter point, a traveler who refuses to pass over a bridge until he has personally tested the soundness of every part of it is not likely to go very far; something must be risked, even in mathematics. It is notorious that even in this realm of 'exact' thought discovery has often been in advance of strict logic, as in the theory of imaginaries, for example, and in the whole province of analysis of which Fourier's theorem is the type. And it might even be claimed that the services which geometry has rendered to other sciences have been almost as great in virtue of the questions which it implicitly begs as of those which it resolves.

I would venture, with some trepidation, to go one step further. Mathematicians love to build on as definite a foundation as possible, and from this point of view the notion of the integral number, on which (we are told) the mathematics of the future are to be based, is