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The Mathematician's Mind Paperback – September 30, 1996
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The roots of creativity for Hadamard lie not in consciousness, but in the long unconscious work of incubation, and in the unconscious aesthetic selection of ideas that thereby pass into consciousness. His discussion of this process comprises a wide range of topics, including the use of mental images or symbols, visualized or auditory words, "meaningless" words, logic, and intuition. Among the important documents collected is a letter from Albert Einstein analyzing his own mechanism of thought.
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Most of his respondents were mathematicians (and he limited his correspondence to the best minds in the field), but he did get information from several other fields, and cites data about physicists (a letter from Einstein forms another appendix), chemists, physiologists, metaphysicians, and so on. What he is trying to examine is a slippery subject, perhaps best explained by a quote. Here is a discussion of Sidgwick, an economist: "His reasonings on economic questions were almost always accompanied by images, and the images were often curiously arbitrary and sometimes almost undecipherably symbolic. For example, it took him a long time to discover that an odd symbolic image which accompanied the word 'value' was a faint, partial image of a man putting something on a scale."
Hadamard gives his own mental images that accompany his following through the steps of Euclid's famous proof of the infinitude of primes. I won't reproduce that here for space reasons, but the contrast with Sidgwick's--and with other reports of mental activity--is fascinating. Many other examples are given, from Mozart to Polya to Galton to Poincare. Hadamard makes it clear that language and thought are not the same thing, contrary to a commonly expressed view among linguists.Read more ›
The book is short enough that if the subject interests you, it is worth your time.
The text is also published under the title "The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field."