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Mathematicians: An Outer View of the Inner World - John Horton Conway

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Mariana Cook’s book Mathematicians: An Outer View of the Inner World was published by Princeton University Press in 2009 and is a remarkable collection of ninety-two photographic portraits featuring many of the most notable mathematicians of our time. Each photograph is accompanied by a brief personal essay either written by the mathematician or edited from an interview Cook conducted with him or her. For more information, please visit Mariana Cook’s website:

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John Horton Conway - Photos and Text ©Mariana Cook “Mathematicians: An Outer View of the Inner World”

More than a century ago, a great German mathematician by the name of Cantor discovered the theory of infinite numbers. Two thousand years ago, Archimedes founded the theory of real numbers that we normally use. The “surreal numbers” include both. When I discovered them, I went around in a permanent daydream for six weeks thinking about how the explorer Cortez looked out over the Pacific and saw a world that no Westerner had ever seen before. Nobody had ever seen what I saw before. Although it was totally abstract, it was very real. Abstract things can be real. Numbers can be realer than physical objects. It was an amazing new world of numbers that I discovered, more than numbers.