Sunday, October 21, 2007

Russian scientific pioneers neglected outside of Russia Introduction

I sometimes wonder if the much encouraged and proclaimed interaction among western astronomers leads to a form of mental herd behavior which, if it does not actually put a clamp upon free thinking, insidiously applies the pressure to follow the fashion. This makes the writings of our Russian colleagues who have partly developed ideas in comparative isolation all the more valuable.

Yes, I have wondered whether one should in fact pursue subjects with a big wall between two groups that are working in the same field, so that they absolutely cannot communicate, and see a few years later whether they come even approximately to the same conclusion. It would then give some perspective of how much the herd behavior may have been hurting. But we don't have that. Even with our Russian colleagues, unfortunately, we have too much contact to have a display of real independence, to see where it would have led.

Thomas Gold

There are substantial differences in scientific thought between the west, and Russia as the history of Russian shows, the use of and the limitations of mathematics to scientific applications for one. That is the following of Hilbert and his axioms in the west. and Poincare and its geometric applications to time and space in the west.

Or as Vladimir Arnold says,

The real danger is not the applied mafia itself, but the divorce between pure mathematics and the sciences created by the (I would say criminal) formalization of mathematics and of mathematical education. The axiomatical-deductive Hilbert-Bourbaki style of exposition of mathematics, dominant in the first half of this century, is now fortunately giving place to the unifying trends of the Poincaré style geometrical mathematics, combining deep theoretical insight with real world applications.

Our brain has two halves: one is responsible for the multiplication of polynomials and languages, and the other half is responsible for orientation of figures in space and all the things important in real life. Mathematics is geometry when you have to use both halves.

As the 50th anniversary of space travel we will look at some of the greats of Russian science who are virtually unknown outside of Russia.

As we saw in our post on Vernadsky these pioneers are as well known in Russia as Darwin or Einstein are in the west.


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