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


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

  2. Mugizi says:

    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 …)

  3. 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…

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