"For a mathematical citizenship"
by Jean-Pierre Bourguignon
Jean-Pierre Bourguignon is the president of the European
mathematical society, the director of the Institute
of high scientific studies (IHES in France).
On the occasion of the opening of a new mathematical space at the
des sciences" in Paris he wondered about the problem of the popularization
of mathematics and the recognition of a mathematical citizenship.
Below are quoted extracts of the text published in "Visa pour la cité"
on september 1995.
"By nature mathematics sustain a particular relationship with
the notion of truth. Their demand for rigour tends to make their presentation
esoteric. Because of this ascetism though a mathematical wording takes
a dimension of eternity and entrustes an assurance to the one who
has mastered the roundabout ways which can be the foundation of a
wun freedom against arbitrary assertion. If this aspect may make mathematics
be appreciated as a subversive activity, this one may also induce
to the picture of an immutable science where nothing to be discovered
or to be invented would be left. This widespread view is wrong for
at least three reasons. (...)
New mathematical objects have constantly been created during this
century which saw a staggering explosion of the number of mathematicians
around the world.
New mathematical fields go on appearing.
Some mathematical problems passed by our ancestors at last find their
solution (ex: Fermat's theorem). (...)
But this wrong pertinence is even aggravated because of the false
feeling that mathematics would not have an impact on our daily life.
The main changes occured during this century though precisely are
their penetration into very diverse fields of human activity. Our
modern society is characterizated by the omnipresence of very finalized
products in which a great number of parameters have to be mastered
and optimized. Data and video picture processing too mobilizes recent
mathematics. Mathematics hide behind a very long list of situations
of every day life. (...) Because of their multiform presence in modern
societies, the fundamental mechanismes of mathematics have to be intelligible
to the greatest possible number of citizens. That is to give them
the opportunity to exercise their judgment in a responsible way without
being taken in a possibely tendentious use of informations of mathematical
nature. In the order not to reduce these "mathematics for everybody"
to a training and to make them be seen as a science in action they
must take on a meaning and here is the absolute pitfall. So our duty
is to invent and make attractive some places and situations where
this stimulation of curiosity is called upon ."
Jean-Pierre Bourguignon - "Visa pour la cité" on september