"Georg Cantor" Sort by

In the fourth episode, Professor Marcus du Sautoy concludes his investigation into the history of mathematics with a look at some of the great unsolved problems that confronted mathematicians in the 20th century. After exploring Georg Cantor's work on infinity and Henri Poincare's work on chaos theory, he sees how mathematics was itself thrown into chaos by the discoveries of Kurt Godel and Paul Cohen, before completing his journey by considering some unsolved problems of maths today, including the Riemann Hypothesis.

brilliant mathematicians, whose genius has profoundly affected us, but which tragically drove them insane and eventually led to them all committing suicide. Georg Cantor, the great mathematician whose work proved to be the foundation for much of the 20th-century mathematics. He believed he was God's messenger and was eventually driven insane trying to prove his theories of infinity. Ludwig Boltzmann's struggle to prove the existence of atoms and probability eventually drove him to suicide.

By our third year, most of us will have learned to count. Once we know how, it seems as if there would be nothing to stop us counting forever. But, while infinity might seem like an perfectly innocent idea, keep counting and you enter a paradoxical world where nothing is as it seems. Mathematicians have discovered there are infinitely many infinities, each one infinitely bigger than the last. And if the universe goes on forever, the consequences are even more bizarre. In an infinite universe, there are infinitely many copies of the Earth and infinitely many copies of you. Older than time, bigger than the universe and stranger than fiction. This is the story of infinity.

But in the 19th century, maths is turned on its head when new types of geometry are invented. No longer is the kind of geometry we learned in school the final say on the subject. If maths is more like a game, albeit a complicated one, where we can change the rules, surely this points to maths being something we invent - a product of the human mind. To try and answer this question, Hannah travels to Halle in Germany on the trail of perhaps one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century, Georg Cantor. He showed that infinity, far from being infinitely big, actually comes in different sizes, some bigger than others. This increasingly weird world is feeling more and more like something we've invented. But if that's the case, why is maths so uncannily good at predicting the world around us? Invented or discovered, this question just got a lot harder to answer.