Alex Bellos listed what he call as the ten best mathematicians (of all time). His list, published in The Guardian, is based on his assessment that the individual contributions of the listed ten mathematicians changed the world, rather revolutionized the mathematics in some sense.
Alex, firstly listed 10 great minds whose contribution to mathematics is simply awesome. However, the list to me is far from complete and it is grossly incorrect to call the selected 10 are the best. Perhaps we should have named it “10 amazing mathematicians”. I am sure Alex didn’t do an exhaustive research on the mathematicians who lived on this planet. If we are to limit the number 10, then there are many other mathematicians whose contribution will any day stand taller than some of these. Newton, Shannon, Kologomorov, Fourier, Galois, Shannon, Abel, Euclid and even Ramanujan are some of the names which comes to my mind at once. Many French mathematicians are given a miss as well. Some may argue that, these are not pure mathematicians, but they all had produced more than one mathematical theory which for sure changed the world; sometimes beyond mathematical world. Newton for his Calculus can never be omitted from the top ten. Shannon’s mathematical theory is kind of the underpinning of literary everything in communication including the internet . Fourier’s once ignored (and painfully debated) work on heat, which eventually spurred harmonic analysis and the young Galois’s spike all takes merit.
Among the list, Euler, Copernicus, and Gauss will pick themselves any day. I reckon Cantor will also find a wider consensus to be within top ten. Perelman and Tao are clearly two of the modern greats, but to say that they are among the top ten of the over 3000 year old formal mathematical history comes with a touch of boredom. Erdos is one of the popular mathematician in the 20th century, who has been an immense contributor to many different areas of mathematics. Moreover, he has been a maverick among the modern mathematicians because of the travel crazy, migrating style life. He is one of my favourite mathematician as well. Whether he ranks himself in the all time top ten is not clear to me.
Nevertheless, Alex has spawn an article which will spur some curiosity to the general reader on the history of mathematics. Mathematicians from 500BC, Copernicus to this date (Perelman and Terrence Tao) are there in the list.
The Italian fame Cardano is apparently one of the original mathematician who paved the probability theory. To my ignorance I have not heard much about him. I am curious about that part of the history now. I had heard of the Hypatia legacy in mathematics, and had since forgotten about that Greek tragedy. Reading the new list, it reminded me of the atrocities of a state indulged in certain dogma or religious view do to any new scientific claim. This is clearly not the only instance of such a thing happened. Galelio also had difficulty convincing the orthodox society of his time. And there are many. Why then, even now, the religious fanaticism in many states mock the Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The religious monks and the administration there to, all over the world still latch to the belief that it is some hand of god who created the universe and then every single creatures and plants. Ludicrous to say the least! But then, religious beliefs are often personal and one can be blind sometime.