FOM: social construction? wtait at
Fri Mar 20 10:02:49 EST 1998

Charles Silver wrote (3/20)
>I believe Hersh is right that
>we find out what math is by investigating what mathematicians would do in
>certain circumstances.
Maybe this is right if we are taking the approach of anthropologists, 
investigating the workings of an alien culture. But if you replace ``we 
find out what math is by'' by ``we learn math by'', I think you are 
clearly wrong. E.g. do we learn English by investigating what English 
speakers do in certain circumstances? This would not be a good 
description even of how we learn a second language. But the case that is 
analogous to learning math is learning our native language; and here it 
is a non-starter.

If the entire membership of AMS emailed in stating that there are only 
finitely many prime numbers, I would be shocked that so many people had 
gone mad all at once, not that an arithmetic truth had become false.

Bill Tait 

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