Posted by: **Dave Richeson** | July 26, 2010

## Algebra: the Faustian bargain

I came across this great quote from Sir Micheal Atiyah. It is in Barry Mazur’s foreword to Tobias Dantzig’s book *Number: the language of science* (the 2005 reprinting of the 1930 classic).

Algebra is the offer made by the devil to the mathematician. The devil says: I will give you this powerful machine, it will answer any question you like. All you need to do is give me your soul: give up geometry and you will have this marvelous machine. —Sir Michael Atiyah, 2002

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Mmm, I like that. I like algebra, but it hides the meaning in a problem so often.

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Sue VanHattumon July 26, 2010at 11:57 am

LOL, that is awesome!

Reminds me of this famous quote attributed to Herman Weyl:

“In these days the angel of topology and the devil of abstract algebra fight for the soul of every individual discipline of mathematics.”

Interesting that many prominent mathematicians seemed to have a strong preference for geometry… (yeah, sample size of two …)

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Mugizion July 26, 2010at 11:58 am

[...] Traducción propia (y por tanto muy libre) de Division by Zero [...]

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El alma de las matemáticas | Gaussianoson July 28, 2010at 2:02 am

That’s beautiful: funny, and mind-blowing.

Now if only I knew that quote when I started algebra in high school, after doing poorly in geometry under an awful teacher…

By:

Bryan Alexanderon July 28, 2010at 12:41 pm

[...] am a little behind the times on this, but Dave Richardson recently posted a quote from Micheal Atiyah: Algebra is the offer made by the devil to the mathematician. The devil says: I will give you this [...]

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Computers beat the devil? « Maxwell’s Demonon July 31, 2010at 9:17 am

[...] Traducción propia (y por tanto muy libre) de Division by Zero [...]

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El alma de las matemáticas « Juanjomath's Blogon August 12, 2010at 12:36 pm

[...] Michael Atiyah visto en Division by Zero, vía Gaussianos (que, de yapa, se pregunta algo [...]

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¡No te entregaré mi alma! « El Tornillo Condensado de Hewitton September 19, 2010at 12:51 am

[...] ici. Mots-clefs : algèbre, diable, Michael [...]

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L’algèbre démoniaque « Blogdemathson October 24, 2010at 12:19 pm