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Mathematics at TCD 1592-1992

years of
by T. D. Spearman


Francis Bacon, writing in 1620, expressed his opposition to `pure, mystic and self-sufficient mathematics, entirely severed from matter and from axioms of natural philosophy, serving only to satisfy an appetite for expatiation and meditation which were incidental to the human mind'.

More recently, in 1944, J.L. Synge asked `if mathematicians have really lost their old universal touch - if, in fact, they see the hand of God more truly in the refinement of precise logic than in the motion of the stare?' He went on to say that in 1744 or 1844 most mathematicians would `roam abroad and seek mathematical sustenance in problems arisingdirectly out of other fields of science' whereas in 1944 the number doing so was `such a small fraction of the whole that it becomes necessary to remind the majority of the existence of the minority, and to explain its point of view. The minority does not wish to be labelled ``physicist'' or ``engineer'', for it is following a mathematical tradition extending through more than twenty centuries and including the names Euclid, Archimedes, Newton, Lagrange, Hamilton, Gauss, Poincaré. The minority does not wish to belittle in any way the work of the majority, but it does fear that a mathematics whichfeeds solely on itself will in time exhaust its interest.'

The Trinity mathematical tradition has always been a broadly based one embracing mathematics, natural philosophy and astronomy. The present department is one of pure and applied mathematics and its interests extend into theoretical physics and computing. Within the department, mathematicians, both pure and applied, interact creatively: one example of this is in the important contribution which Trinity mathematicians have made in recent years in the application of modern topological and geometrical ideas to the fundamental problems of physics.

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