Dangerous Knowledge: 4 Brilliant Mathematicians & Their Drift to Insanity

We’re bring­ing back by pop­u­lar demand Dan­ger­ous Knowl­edge, the BBC’s 90-minute doc­u­men­tary that takes a close look at four math­e­mati­cians — Georg Can­tor, Lud­wig Boltz­mann, Kurt Gödel and Alan Tur­ing – whose think­ing pro­found­ly influ­enced mod­ern math­e­mat­ics but also drove them (or so the pro­gram argues) to insan­i­ty and even­tu­al­ly sui­cide. Can­tor gave us “set the­o­ry.” Boltz­mann made impor­tant con­tri­bu­tions in the fields of sta­tis­ti­cal mechan­ics and sta­tis­ti­cal ther­mo­dy­nam­ics. Gödel is remem­bered for his incom­plete­ness the­o­rems. Tur­ing built on Gödel’s work and laid the foun­da­tion for com­put­er sci­ence. They all spent their dif­fi­cult final years in var­i­ous states of men­tal decline. You can find Part 2 here.

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Comments (6)
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  • Carter Caldwell says:

    Math­e­mati­cians and insan­i­ty! Hav­ing recent­ly read A Beau­ti­ful Mind and hav­ing seen the movie recent­ly, it makes you won­der why do math­e­mati­cians go insane? The book revolved around the life of John Nash, as you all may know, and though it may have been a pre-exist­ing con­di­tion, it makes you won­der why are all great math­e­mati­cians mad.

  • Rich McMullen says:

    I find it hilar­i­ous that you tell us about how these great math­e­mati­cians went insane and then go right to offer­ing to teach us mathematics…thanks!

  • This the type of doc­u­men­tary I was look­ing for­ward to this past sum­mer! Awe­some video, thank you for shar­ing it :D

  • Ozogg says:

    Sure­ly this OP is delin­quent ?

    The term “insan­i­ty”, and its prop­er mea­sure, are the most dif­fi­cult to jus­ti­fy — even to pro­fes­sion­als.

    And even then, it is almost crim­i­nal to employ that term in a Boolean (100% true, vs 0% true) fash­ion.

    Thus there exist sub­tleties of :
    — cat­e­go­ry def­i­n­i­tion
    — cat­e­go­ry degree.

    Over-sim­plis­tic ON/OFF def­i­n­i­tions (and con­se­quent cat­e­gori­sa­tions) actu­al­ly reveal anoth­er kind of men­tal afflic­tion — idio­cy !

    Yes, some great minds can “think quite dif­fer­ent­ly” to the mass­es. Yet these great minds might not be insane, rather the mass­es might be insane (for not see­ing a truth that even­tu­al­ly becomes adopt­ed by the mass­es).

    Some of these great ideas become canons of truth, which dra­mat­i­cal­ly illus­trates which it is that might be insane, or not, if one uses “insane” as “detached from real­i­ty” (how­ev­er defined).

    The OP should be mocked end­less­ly.

  • John T says:

    Maybe they final­ly under­stood the mean­ing of the word ‘inifin­i­ty’ and the thought alone of inifin­i­ty drove them to insan­i­ty. Our minds aren’t sup­pose to under­stand that con­cept… A kind of self pro­tec­tion mech­a­nism which they broke.

  • SimplyFred says:

    Solv­ing equa­tions is the most intel­lec­tu­al­ly demand­ing task in the world. Math­e­mati­cians, while solv­ing equa­tions are not, they can­not be ‘insane’ (sic). Some math­e­mati­cians find them­selves the vic­tims of peo­ple with sec­ond or third rate IQ’s who have to believe the math­e­mati­cian sit­ting next to them is emo­tion­al­ly trou­bled.

    From the very first day in the very first uni­ver­si­ty, Math­e­mati­cians have always had their own build­ings. It has to be that way.

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