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

3.5 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0486442525
ISBN-10: 0486442527
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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.
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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 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,832,705 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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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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Format: Paperback
My favorite part of this book was the interview with CS. As a programmer, it was gratifying to read such a sensible articulation of the profession.
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