The math controversy that, they say, led to a mental breakdown

Cantor_4In an essay called “The Root of Infinity: It’s Surreal!“, the ThatsMath blog writes about a dark side to the power of numbers. The Cantor mentioned here is George Cantor [pictured here], who pretty much created large subsets of certain branches of mathematics :

… But the extended system was hugely controversial, and for good reasons. For example, Cantor found that {1 + \omega \ne \omega +1}. His system was not commutative under addition. In fact, {1+\omega = \omega}. We might be tempted to subtract {\omega} from each side, but this would yield the nonsensical result {1 =0}. The controversy was a factor in Cantor’s mental breakdown and ultimate suicide.

(Thanks to investigators @replicakill and @mathematicus for a corrective tweak to this.)

  • meyati

    I’ve always known that numbers don’t mean anything-you can make a number mean anything you want. It’s amazing how much my math skills went up after I entered high school and was handed an algebra book. I love astronomy, because a mistake of a few million miles isn’t any big deal. Even with radar, we’re still making distance and size estimates based on the guess of where something else might be.