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Descartes' Dream: The World According to Mathematics (Dover Books on Mathematics) [Paperback]

Philip J. Davis , Reuben Hersh
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 24, 2005 0486442527 978-0486442525

"A passionate plea against the use of formal mathematical reasoning as a method for solving mankind's problems. . . . An antidote to the Cartesian view that mathematical and scientific knowledge will suffice to solve the central problems of human existence." — The New York Times
"These cogitations can and should be read by every literate person." — Science Books and Films
"A warning against being seduced or intimidated by mathematics into accepting bad science, bad policies, and bad personal decisions." — Philadelphia Inquirer
Rationalist philosopher and mathematician René Descartes visualized a world unified by mathematics, in which all intellectual issues could be resolved rationally by local computation. This series of provocative essays takes a modern look at the seventeenth-century thinker's dream, examining the physical and intellectual influences of mathematics on society, particularly in light of technological advances. These essays survey the conditions of civilization that elicit the application of mathematic principles; the effectiveness of these applications; situations in which the applications are beneficial, dangerous, or irrelevant; and how applied mathematics constrain lives and transform perceptions of reality. Highly suitable for browsing, the essays require different levels of mathematical knowledge that range from popular to professional.
Philip J. Davis is Professor Emeritus, Division of Applied Mathematics, Brown University. Reuben Hersh is Professor Emeritus, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Different in approach from the authors' well received The Mathematical Experience , which concentrated on developing a philosophy of mathematics, this eclectic collection of essays examines the application of mathematics to nature and human activities. Applied mathematics has become all-pervasive during the past 100 years as business, technology, and mathematics have combined to generate the computer age and the information society. In episodic fashion, Davis and Hersh present a lively narrative on the background and history of automation technology and its resultant social changes, and they evaluate the effectiveness, benefits, and even dangers of the "mathematization of the world." Fascinating and unique reading, though some of the essays are rather technical for the nonspecialist. Still, highly recommended. Robert Paustian, Wilkes Coll. Lib., Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Dover Books on Mathematics
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications (March 24, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486442527
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486442525
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #890,952 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting , but doesn't add up to a unified whole February 25, 2006
THIS IS A well-intentioned but hardly satisfying book. From various angles it shows the increasing mathematization of our lives - but more importantly it questions the wisdom of placing our faith in this type of orderly, rationalized world.

We have become more mathematically inclined than you probably realize. It has become a given that those fields having a solid mathematical underpinning (e.g. physics and chemistry) have more validity than those that don't (e.g. psychology and sociology). The implications of this belief stretch far and wide. Mathematics has now reached into everything from biology, medicine, astrophysics, and economics to linguistics, musical composition, choreography, and art. The more math a field employs, it is believed, the more valid it must be.

The belief that guides much of modern society is that anything in the physical world can become the subject of a mathematical theory. This was French philosopher Rene Descartes' dream. In 1637 he published his revolutionary "Discourse on Method" which was a methodology for science based on the deductive logic of mathematical reasoning. This meant that since one plus one equals two, and this is a truth that cannot be challenged, then anything that can be put into a mathematical framework would also be true. This view also leads to the belief (as it did for Descartes) that animals - and perhaps humans - are merely complex machines; after all, life itself exists in the physical world.

But where does one draw the line? Certainly some things must be kept outside of the mathematical/computerized realm. Hopefully, emotions, attitudes, literature and the like will never make a successful transition into a computer program.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not What You May Expect June 15, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Davis and Hersh write interesting, accessible overviews of pertinent social-mathematical topics and provide a respectable bibliography of reference materials. Topics covered include meta thinking, meaning of computation, and mathematical abstraction. If you are looking for information about Descartes, however, as I was, you will find very little of that in this volume.
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4.0 out of 5 stars a little dry June 12, 2014
here we find the challenge of buying books online. while i appreciate a good tale about sex and death there wasn't enough of that here. i want pirates and car chases on my bookshelf along with some real quick dialogue and snappy dressing. the world according to mathematics is a better book of it's kind than i am used to reading and probably shall ever read again. i am a cad, a bounder and one of those chaps who says "what the deuce??" as if i am in a 1930's British movie about hobo's and the landed gentry...what do i really know about math??
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