Synopses & Reviews
René Descartes (1596—1650) is one of the towering and central figures in Western philosophy and mathematics. His apothegm “Cogito, ergo sum” marked the birth of the mind-body problem, while his creation of so-called Cartesian coordinates has made our intellectual conquest of physical space possible.
But Descartes had a mysterious and mystical side, as well. Almost certainly a member of the occult brotherhood of the Rosicrucians, he kept a secret notebook, now lost, most of which was written in code. After Descartes’s death, Gottfried Leibniz, inventor of calculus and one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, moved to Paris in search of this notebook–and eventually found it in the possession of Claude Clerselier, a friend of Descartes’s. Liebniz called on Clerselier and was allowed to copy only a couple of pages–which, though written in code, he amazingly deciphered there on the spot. Liebniz’s hastily scribbled notes are all we have today of Descartes’s notebook.
Why did Descartes keep a secret notebook, and what were its contents? The answers to these questions will lead the reader on an exciting, swashbuckling journey, and offer a fascinating look at one of the great figures of Western culture.
Review
"What Aczel did for mathematician Fermat (Fermat's Last Theorem) he now does for Descartes in this splendid study about the French philosopher and mathematician (1596 1650) most famous for his paradigm-smashing declaration, 'I think; therefore, I am.' Part historical sketch, part biography and part detective story, Aczel's chronicle of Descartes's hidden work hinges on his lost secret notebook. Of 16 pages of coded manuscript, one and a half were copied in 1676 by fellow philosopher and mathematician Leibniz. For him, Descartes's inscription of the cryptic letters 'GFRC' immediately revealed his association with the occult fraternity of the Rosicrucians Leibniz was also a member. The notebook also revealed to Leibniz a discovery made by Descartes that would have transformed mathematics. As Aczel so deftly demonstrates, Descartes's mathematical theories were paths to an understanding the order and mystery of the cosmos, and he kept the notebook hidden because it contained a formula that because it supported Copernicus's model of the solar system Descartes feared would lead to his persecution by the Inquisition. Aczel lucidly explains the science, mystery and mathematics of Descartes, who has never been so lively as he is in the pages of this first-rate biography and social history. Agent, John Taylor Williams." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Synopsis
René Descartes (15961650) is one of the towering and central figures in Western philosophy and mathematics. His apothegm “Cogito, ergo sum” marked the birth of the mind-body problem, while his creation of so-called Cartesian coordinates has made our intellectual conquest of physical space possible.
But Descartes had a mysterious and mystical side, as well. Almost certainly a member of the occult brotherhood of the Rosicrucians, he kept a secret notebook, now lost, most of which was written in code. After Descartess death, Gottfried Leibniz, inventor of calculus and one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, moved to Paris in search of this notebook–and eventually found it in the possession of Claude Clerselier, a friend of Descartess. Liebniz called on Clerselier and was allowed to copy only a couple of pages–which, though written in code, he amazingly deciphered there on the spot. Liebnizs hastily scribbled notes are all we have today of Descartess notebook.
Why did Descartes keep a secret notebook, and what were its contents? The answers to these questions will lead the reader on an exciting, swashbuckling journey, and offer a fascinating look at one of the great figures of Western culture.
About the Author
AMIR D. ACZEL is the author of many research articles on mathematics, two textbooks, and nine nonfiction books, including the international bestseller Fermat's Last Theorem, which was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Award. Aczel has appeared on over thirty television programs, including nationwide appearances on CNN, CNBC, and Nightline, and on over a hundred radio programs, including NPR's Weekend Edition and Morning Edition. Aczel is a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.