Eric Temple Bell
|Eric Temple Bell|
February 7, 1883|
|Died||December 21, 1960
Watsonville, California, U.S.
|Institutions||University of Washington
California Institute of Technology
|Alma mater||Stanford University
Columbia University (Ph.D.)
|Doctoral advisor||Frank Nelson Cole
|Doctoral students||Howard Percy Robertson
|Known for||Number theory
Ordered Bell numbers
|Notable awards||Bôcher Memorial Prize (1924)|
Eric Temple Bell (February 7, 1883 – December 21, 1960) was a mathematician and science fiction author born in Scotland who lived in the U.S. for most of his life. He published his non-fiction under his given name and his fiction as John Taine.
He was born in Peterhead, Scotland, but his father, a fish-factor, moved to San Jose, California in 1884, when he was fifteen months old. The family returned to Bedford, England after his father's death, on January 4, 1896. Bell returned to the United States, by way of Montreal in 1902.
Bell attended Stanford University, the University of Washington, and Columbia University (where he was a student of Cassius Jackson Keyser). He was on the faculty first at the University of Washington and later at the California Institute of Technology.
He did research in number theory; see in particular Bell series. He attempted—not altogether successfully—to make the traditional umbral calculus (understood at that time to be the same thing as the "symbolic method" of Blissard) logically rigorous. He also did much work using generating functions, treated as formal power series, without concern for convergence. He is the eponym of the Bell polynomials and the Bell numbers of combinatorics. In 1924 he was awarded the Bôcher Memorial Prize for his work in mathematical analysis. He died in 1960 in Watsonville, California.
Fiction and poetry
In the early 1920s, Bell wrote several long poems. He also wrote several science fiction novels, which independently invented some of the earliest devices and ideas of science fiction. Only The Purple Sapphire was published at the time, under the pseudonym John Taine; this was before Hugo Gernsback and the genre publication of science fiction. His novels were published later, both in book form and serialized in the magazines. Basil Davenport, writing in The New York Times, described "Taine" as "one of the first real scientists to write science-fiction [who] did much to bring it out of the interplanetary cops-and-robbers stage." Davenport concluded, however, that "[Taine] is sadly lacking as a novelist, in style and especially in characterization."
Writing about mathematics
Bell wrote a book of biographical sketches titled Men of Mathematics, (one chapter of which was the first popular account of the 19th century woman mathematician Sofia Kovalevskaya) and which is still in print. The book inspired notable mathematicians including Julia Robinson, John Forbes Nash, Jr., and Andrew Wiles to take up a life of mathematics. However, historians of mathematics have disputed the accuracy of much of Bell's history. In fact, through most of the text, Bell does not distinguish carefully between anecdote and history. He has been much criticised for romanticizing Évariste Galois. Rothman (1982, p. 103) writes: "[E. T.] Bell's account [of Galois's life], by far the most famous, is also the most fictitious."
Bell's later book, Development of Mathematics has been less famous, but Constance Reid finds it has many fewer weaknesses. A recent study finds Bell's treatment of infinitesimals in Development of Mathematics as plagued by fictional excesses as his other historical work.
The Last Problem is a hybrid, between a social history and a history of mathematics.
- An Arithmetical Theory of Certain Numerical Functions, Seattle Washington, The University, 1915, 50p. PDF/DjVu copy from Internet Archive.
- The Cyclotomic Quinary Quintic, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, The New Era Printing Company, 1912, 97p.
- Algebraic Arithmetic, New York, American Mathematical Society, 1927, 180p.
- Debunking Science, Seattle, University of Washington book store, 1930, 40p.
- The Queen of the Sciences, Stechert, 1931, 138p.
- The Search for Truth, Baltimore, Reynal and Hitchcock, 1934, 279p.
- Reprint: Williams and Wilkins Co, 1935
- The Handmaiden of the Sciences, Williams & Wilkins, 1937, 216p.
- Man and His Lifebelts, New York, Reynal & Hitchcock, 1938, 340p.
- Reprint: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1935, 2nd printing 1946
- Reprint: Kessinger Publishing, 2005
- Men of Mathematics, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1937, 592p.
- The Development of Mathematics, New York, McGraw–Hill, 1940, 637p.
- Second Edition: New York, McGraw–Hill, 1945, 637p.
- Reprint: Dover Publications, 1992
- The Magic of Numbers, Whittlesey House, 1946, 418p.
- Mathematics: Queen and Servant of Science, McGraw-Hill, 1951, 437p.
- The Last Problem, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1961, 308p.
- Numerology, Hyperion Press, 1979, ISBN 0-88355-774-6, 195p.
- [This subsection needs attention.]
- The Purple Sapphire (1924)
- The Gold Tooth (1927)
- Quayle's Invention (1927)
- Green Fire (1928)
- The Greatest Adventure (1929)
- The Iron Star (1930)
- The Time Stream (1931)
- Seeds of Life (1931)
- Before the Dawn (1934)
- The Forbidden Garden (1947)
- The Cosmic Geoids and One Other (1949)
- The Crystal Horde (1952)
- G.O.G. 666 (1954)
- The Singer (1916)
- "Time makes fools of us all. Our only comfort is that greater shall come after us."
- "Obvious is the most dangerous word in mathematics."
- Goodstein, Judith R.; Babbitt, Donald (June/July 2013). "E.T. Bell and Mathematics at Caltech between the Wars" (PDF). Notices of the American Mathematical Society 60 (6): 688. Retrieved 30 June 2013.
- He is not the eponym of the "bell curve", which is so called because of its apparent similarity in shape to the cross-section of a bell.
- Reid, Constance (1993). The Search for E.T. Bell, also known as John Taine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-88385-508-9. OCLC 29190602. ""Most fiction writers are, after all, primarily fiction writers," he [Glenn Hughes, professor of English literature] wrote of Bell. "Some of them may show a trifle more finesse in plot handling or characterization, but none of them surpasses Bell in grandness of conception or accuracy of detail. One has always the uncanny feeling that [he] is dealing in probabilities, and that many of his most extravagant dreams are but pre-visions of nightmares in store for the human race."
- "Spacemen's Realm", The New York Times, October 19, 1952
- Reid, Constance (1996), Julia, a Life in Mathematics, MAA spectrum, Cambridge University Press, p. 25, ISBN 9780883855201, "The only idea of real mathematics that I had came from Men of Mathematics. In it I got my first glimpse of a mathematician per se. I cannot overemphasize the importance of such books about mathematics in the intellectual life of a student like myself completely out of contact with research mathematicians."
- Kuhn, Harold W.; Nasar, Sylvia (2002), The Essential John Nash, Princeton University Press, p. 6, ISBN 9780691095271, "By the time I was a student in high school I was reading the classic "Men of Mathematics" by E. T. Bell and I remember succeeding in proving the classic Fermat theorem about an integer multiplied by itself p times where p is a prime."
- Hodgkin, Luke (2005), A History of Mathematics: From Mesopotamia to Modernity, Oxford University Press, p. 254, ISBN 9780191664366, "The fact that Wiles was stimulated in childhood by E. T. Bell's romantic personalized anecdotal book Men of Mathematics to nurse an ambition to solve the problem [[[Fermat's Last Theorem]]] is in itself an index of the power which a certain view of the history of mathematics can exercise."
- See chiefly Ivor Grattan-Guinness (1971) "Towards a Biography of Georg Cantor," Annals of Science 27: 345–91.
- Katz, Mikhail; Sherry, David (2012), "Leibniz’s Infinitesimals: Their Fictionality, Their Modern Implementations, and Their Foes from Berkeley to Russell and Beyond", Erkenntnis, arXiv:1205.0174, doi:10.1007/s10670-012-9370-y.
- Beck, Matthias; Marchesi, Gerald; Pixton, Dennis; Sabalka, Lucas, A First Course in Complex Analysis, p. 26
- Constance Reid. The Search for E.T. Bell, Also Known as John Taine. Washington, DC, Mathematical Association of America, 1993, ISBN 0-88385-508-9, x, 372p.
- Rothman, T. (1982) Genius and biographers: the fictionalization of Evariste Galois. Amer. Math. Monthly 89, no. 2, 84–106.
- Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. p. 36. ISBN 0-911682-20-1.
- Biographical sketch by Constance Reid
- O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Eric Temple Bell", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews.
- Eric Temple Bell at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
- MAA presidents: Eric Temple
- John Taine at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database