Abstract- Amir Alexander

http://hdl.handle.net/10002/434 (FULL PAPER)

Death in Paris: When Mathematics became Art

In the early decades of the 19th century, the science of mathematics underwent a transformation that has shaped its course to this day. From a field that studies the physical world around us, it became the study of sublime truths that lie beyond the reach of ordinary mortals. Mathematicians became those endowed with a special site into the alternate universe of mathematical perfection, who then return and report what they saw to the rest of us. This novel understanding of the field was epitomized in 1830s Paris by the tragic legends of two young mathematical geniuses Evariste Galois and Niels Henrik Abel. Both, according to legend, had tried to spread word of their discoveries in Paris, only to die poor and unacknowledged by their jaded contemporaries. Their mathematical heritage, however, will live on to eternity.
The transformation of mathematics moved the field away from the natural sciences and into line with the fine arts. In that age of high romanticism, art, poetry, and music were also perceived as connecting humans to sublime experiences accessible only to a privileged few. It is no coincidence that the mythical biographies of mathematicians such as Galois and Abel closely parallel the legendary lives of poets, artists, and musicians of that romantic age.