Review of M. Giaquinto's Visual thinking in mathematics [Book Review]

Analysis 69 (2):401-403 (2009)
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Our visual experience seems to suggest that no continuous curve can cover every point of the unit square, yet in the late nineteenth century Giuseppe Peano proved that such a curve exists. Examples like this, particularly in analysis (in the sense of the infinitesimal calculus) received much attention in the nineteenth century. They helped instigate what Hans Hahn called a “crisis of intuition”, wherein visual reasoning in mathematics came to be thought to be epistemically problematic. Hahn described this “crisis” as follows: Mathematicians had for a long time made use of supposedly geometric evidence as a means of proof in much too naive and much too uncritical a way, till the unclarities and mistakes that arose as a result forced a turnabout. Geometrical intuition was now declared to be inadmissible as a means of proof... (p. 67) Avoiding geometrical evidence, Hahn continued, mathematicians aware of this crisis pursued what he called “logicization”, “when the discipline requires nothing but purely logical fundamental concepts and propositions for its development.” On this view, an epistemically ideal mathematics would minimize, or avoid altogether, appeals to visual representations. This would be a radical reformation of past practice, necessary, according to its advocates, for avoiding “unclarities and mistakes” like the one exposed by Peano.

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Andrew Arana
Université de Lorraine


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