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uni'wissen 01(3)-2011_ENG

perception and the general public.” It is thus a kind of image building, a centuries-old PR cam- paign advocating the discipline of numbers, sym- bols, and figures. However, not only mathematicians are en- gaged in the discourse on mathematics: “When a mathematician appears in a school play and exhibits features like cold-heartedness or stub- bornness, that says something about the image of mathematics the author wants to construct,” explains Albrecht. Satirical school plays and novels in particular draw on common stereo- types of mathematicians to launch their social criticism. Harmonic Men of Numbers and Symbols Andrea Albrecht studied German literature, philosophy, and mathematics, and she didn’t succeed in reconciling these disparate disci- plines until after completing her dissertation: “They were like two separate parts of my person- ality.” She came up with the idea of combining them while studying 19th-century cultural and natural history journals as part of a research project at the University of Göttingen. In many issues she discovered articles that pointed to in- terrelationships between the humanities and the natural sciences. When Picasso inspired artists throughout Europe with his sculptures and paint- ings, for instance, architects, art historians, and painters were discussing the term abstraction. At the same time, mathematicians began a debate on the merits of concrete versus abstract think- ing for their research. These journals reveal that there was a great need for a dialogue between the sciences,” says Albrecht. “The parties were talking to each other, publishing texts in which they stated their own positions and responded to those of the other party.” Thomas Hobbes argued in his philosophical tract Leviathan that people would engage in a “war of all against all” if there weren’t a strong state to keep them in check a hypothesis that stands in contrast to the purportedly peaceful nature of a mathematician. Source: Wikimedia Commons “Wit, art, fantasy, and life on the one side, and calculation, rules, monotony, and pedantry on the other these fronts began to crumble” 26