Maxwell is in my eyes a contender for GOAT in Mathematics.

in #history2 years ago


Yesterday, poking around, I asked myself how you could generalize the ellipse for more than two focal points, and I found out that a Scottish boy had asked himself the same question back in the 1840's, and had not only come up with the answer; he had come up with an ingenious method for constructing them.

The Scottish boy was James Clerk Maxwell. Albert Einstein called Maxwell the greatest physicist after Newton, and Einstein was in a position to appreciate Maxwell's work, because he developed his own theories upon its foundation.


Maxwell had a lot in common with Leonhard Euler, himself a good candidate for the G. O. A. T. in mathematics. Both were very happy men, married to women they loved dearly; both had warm and lifelong friendships; both would have been too "strange" to survive schools such as we have them now (Maxwell got his earliest education from his mother); and both were deeply devout Christians -- Euler a German Lutheran, Maxwell a Scottish Presbyterian. For both, the faith was not something apart from their mathematical or scientific work. It was integral to who they were and what they did and why they did it.

It is pleasant to imagine an eternal Garden of the Numberers, where Maxwell, Euler, Pascal, Riemann, Dedekind, Cauchy, Newton, Ramunajan, Pythagoras, and so many others see and talk about the God who made the world "in measure, weight, and number...."


I like this fact about ellipses about the two focal points. I once went to a maths museum (yes they do exist!) in Tokyo, and they had a pool table in the shape of an ellipse, and if you hit the ball from the other focal point and hard enough to hit the wall of the ellipse, you always sunk the ball in the hole.

first time I have ever been so accurate in a game of pool/billiards.