Sunday, April 15, 2007

Happy 300th birthday, Euler!

Stolen shamelessly from ISCA:

"Thiebault says that he has no personal knowledge of the truth of the story, but that it was believed throughout the whole of the north of Europe. The encylopedist Diderot paid a visit to the Russian Court at the invitation of the empress. He conversed very freely, and gave the younger members of the court circle a good deal of lively atheism. The empress was much amused, but some of her councillors suggested that it might be desirable to check these expositions of doctrine. the empress did not like to put a direct muzzle on her guest's tongue, so the following plot was contrived. Diderot was informed that a learned mathematician was in possession of an algebraical demonstration of the existence of God, and would give it him before all the Court, if he desired to hear it. Diderot gladly consented. The mathematician, which was Euler advanced towards Diderot and said gravely, and in a tone of perfect conviction: "Monsieur, (a + b^n)/n =x, therefore God exists. Any answer to that!" Diderot,
to whom algebra was Hebrew, was embarassed and disconcerted; while peals of laughter rose on all sides. He asked permission to return to France at once, which was granted."

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