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The Mathematician's Mind Paperback – September 30, 1996


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Product Details

  • Series: Princeton Science Library
  • Paperback: 166 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (September 30, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691029318
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691029313
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #315,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Fifty years ago when Jacques Hadamard set out to explore how mathematicians invent new ideas, he considered the creative experiences of some of the greatest thinkers of his generation, such as George Polya, Claude LeviStrauss, and Albert Einstein. It appeared that inspiration could strike anytime, particularly after an individual had worked hard on a problem for days and then turned attention to another activity. In exploring this phenomenon, Hadamard produced one of the most famous and cogent cases for the existence of unconscious mental processes in mathematical invention and other forms of creativity. Written before the explosion of research in computers and cognitive science, his book, originally titled The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field, remains an important tool for exploring the increasingly complex problem of mental life.

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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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Mike Christie on January 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a short study of how creative thought works. Hadamard, a world-class mathematician best known for his proof of the prime number theorem in 1896, wrote this in the 40's, basing it on correspondence with many of the great living mathematicians of his time. The actual questions he posed are preserved in an appendix.
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.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Professor Joseph L. McCauley on March 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
Not only is this book fascinating, it's the only one of it's kind. The book has also proved very useful to me in life. As a graduate student I used Poincaré's implicit `advice' (described in the book) in the following way. In electrodynamics we had a long problem sheet to hand in every two weeks. I started by writing down answers to all problems that I knew. Then, I thought about the next-easiest problem each day walking twice to and from the University (about 1 1/2 hours altogether). When the answer came I wrote it down and iterated the process. Before the end of two weeks most of the problems (from Jackson) had been solved. Poincari's advice is very good about giving the unconscious a chance to work. Phooey and double phooey on the silly, uncreative skinner-box types and other behaviorists who don't recognize the unconscious as the source of creativity!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Bukkene Bruse VINE VOICE on April 2, 2001
Format: Paperback
The Mathematician's Mind is a study on how research mathematicians go about the business of advancing their field. Jacques Hadamard, a prominent mathematician, wrote this psychology text over 50 years ago, after having done his best work 50 years prior. Although in some ways dated, both in content and in writing style, the book provides an interesting examination of the role of the conscious and subconscious in solving a problem, particularly the process of incubation and (seemingly) sudden inspiration. He brings up the roles intuition and logic play in the way various mathematicians go about their business. Hadamard also examines the influence of aesthetics in not just choosing a problem, but in solving it. He studies the choice of research direction, with the interesting comment that Hadamard himself avoided areas of research where there was already a great deal of activity.
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."
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Despite the age of this book the collections of stories from inventive geniuses about how "insight" sprang upon them out of the blue is highly convincing. This is the book that outlined the stages of insight including preparation, incubation, insight, etc. Doubt still exists regarding the operation of the subconscious mind but all the examples offered here lower the doubt in my own mind and I think we must recognize that which seems to be really happening..
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