Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Poetry sometimes OPPOSES mathematics!

     One of the finest historians of mathematics is Judith V. Grabiner, professor emerita of Pitzer College;  here is a link to one of her thoughtful and widely informative articles, "The Centrality of Mathematics in the History of Western Thought," (originally published in Mathematics Magazine, 1988).
     Toward the end of this article is a section with the header "Opposition."  It opens with this statement:
          The best proof of the centrality of mathematics is that 
               every example of its influence given so far 
               has provoked strong and significant opposition.
Grabiner includes the voices of poets among the resisters.  She mentions Walt Whitman becoming "tired and sick" and leaving to look at the stars in "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer" and quotes stanza from William Wordsworth's "The Tables Turned."   Wordsworth's condemnation of learning as an opponent to nature ends with these stanzas:  

     Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
     Our meddling intellect
     Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
     We murder to dissect.

     Enough of Science and of Art;
     Close up those barren leaves;
     Come forth, and bring with you a heart
     That watches and receives.

Here is a link to a previous posting in this blog (from June 2015) featuring Judith Grabinger.


  1. Link to Judith's article:

    What would math opposed to poetry look like?

    1. Thanks, John -- your presentation of this link helped me to realize that I had, at first, offered in my posting an unhelpful link to Judith's article. AND I like your question -- something to think about!!