[FOM] Gauss and non-Euclidean geometry

Alasdair Urquhart urquhart at cs.toronto.edu
Thu Oct 25 10:00:38 EDT 2007

Since it seems to have been lost sight of in the ensuing
discussion, I would like to explain what I meant by
Gauss's "dog-in-the-manger attitude" to the results
of Janos Bolyai.  I was simply referring to his apparently
grudging and ungenerous reactions to the ideas and
results of other mathematicians in the area.  Here is a quote
from W.K. Buhler:

 	From 1815 on, Gauss's attitude throughout the discussion
 	appears strangely rigid and indifferent; he seems to
 	confine himself to variations on the theme that everything
 	which others sent him had long been known to him.  Janos
 	Bolyai was particularly hurt when Gauss wrote to his father
 	that he had been familiar with Janos's results for the
 	last 30-50 years, a statement which was misleading if not
 	false.  It was in this context (letter to Bolyai of
 	March 6, 1832) that Gauss used the ominous phrase that
 	he must not praise Janos's work for "to praise it, would
 	mean to praise himself."
 			Gauss, A Biographical Study, p. 102.

Alasdair Urquhart

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