Why is there no Nobel Prize in Mathematics?brought to you byThe Nobel Prize Internet Archive |
Six Nobel Prizes are awarded each year, one in each of the following categories: literature, physics, chemistry, peace, economics, and physiology & medicine. Notably absent from this list is an award for Mathematics. The reason for this conspicuous omission has been subject of extensive speculations, some of which are discussed below.
We have also included our visitors responses and commentaries and why they believe Mathematics was not included as a Nobel category. If you want to post your opinion, feel free to post your opinions.
[ Particularly insightful essays may be included on this page. If you do not want your response published, please note so in the feedback form. ]
Afterword: Not to be left out of the Big Award movement, mathematicians of the world decided to fight back. At the 1924 International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) in Toronto, a resolution was adopted that at each ICM, two gold medals should be awarded to recognize outstanding mathematical achievement. A hyperlinked list of all Fields medal laureates is presented here.
In 2002, the Niels Henrik Abel Memorial Fund was established to award the Abel Prize for outstanding scientific work in the field of mathematics. The prize amount is 6 million NOK (about 750,000 Euro) and was awarded for the first time on 3 June 2003. It is awarded yearly by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in March or April.
The following information is courtesy the sci.math newsgroup's FAQ list which can be found in its original form here.
Nobel prizes were created by the will of Alfred Nobel, a notable Swedish chemist.
One of the most common -and unfounded- reasons as to why Nobel decided against a Nobel prize in math is that [a woman he proposed to/his wife/his mistress] [rejected him because of/cheated him with] a famous mathematician. Gosta Mittag-Leffler is often claimed to be the guilty party.
There is no historical evidence to support the story.
For one, Mr. Nobel was never married.
There are more credible reasons as to why there is no Nobel prize in math. Chiefly among them is simply the fact he didn't care much for mathematics, and that it was not considered a practical science from which humanity could benefit (a chief purpose for creating the Nobel Foundation).
Further, at the time there existed already a well known Scandinavian prize for mathematicians. If Nobel knew about this prize he may have felt less compelled to add a competing prize for mathematicians in his will.
Source: "The Mathematics of Sonya Kovalevskaya" by Roger Cooke (Springer-Verlag, New York etc., 1984, II.5.2, p. 90-91:
Here are some relevant facts:
However, Sister Mary Thomas a Kempis discovered a letter by R. C. Archibald in the archives of Brown University and discussed its contents in "The Mathematics Teacher" (1966, pp.667-668). Archibald had visited Mittag-Leffler and, on his report, it would seem that M-L *believed* that the absence of a Nobel Prize in mathematics was due to an estrangement between the two men. (This at least is the natural reading, but not the only possible one.)
However, the story of some rivalry over a woman is obviously much more amusing, and that's why it will probably continue to be repeated.
References:
What's your opinion? We'll like to know!
[ Particularly insightful essays may be included on this page. If you do not want your response published, please note so in the feedback form. ]
On Oct 10 09:15:56 EDT 2007 Mary wrote:
They take the line from Nobel's bequest, that the prizes should be given "to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind", to indicate that Nobel's interest lay in practical developments, and so mathematics would not qualify. Yet all this boils down to is the circular thesis that there is no Nobel prize in mathematics because Nobel constructed his will in such a way that there should be no Nobel prize in mathematics. The contention that any sort of dispute with Mittag-Leffler would be an unlikely reason to leave mathematics out, simply because there were other mathematicians who might win the prize before him, is also inadequate in its reasoning: even if other mathematicians would get it first, that doesn't mean that Mittag-Leffler would not have eventually gotten it, and perhaps in short order.
As for the speculation that Nobel would not want to taint such an idealistic endeavour with a personal grudge: from the subjective perspective of the person making the bequest, that is just as good a reason for leaving the mathematics prize out, as it would be, from the external perspective, for putting it in. So, apart from the partisan complaints of Arrhenius and Pettersson at the time, the only historical evidence bearing on the matter that seems to have been found thus far is the written testimony of Archibald, that Mittag-Leffler at least believed that he and Nobel were estranged.
For the time being then, the truth still lies buried with Nobel. The real mystery is not why there is no Nobel prize in mathematics, but why there is one- or at least, one administered by the Nobel Foundation- in economics.
On Tue Jul 1 05:00:17 2003 S.Maheswaran wrote:
The above reasons may be thought for NOT including in the Nobel Prize category.
On Tue Jun 3 00:46:44 2003 Norman Blakley West II wrote:
I feel that Math is the universal language, and contributes to all the fields for which nobel prizes are awarded. Math is pure, even in it's highest forms. It is either right or wrong and applies correctly for only some applications. Math unlike literature doesn't evoke emotions, but a useful general tool for solving problems. As long as people push and challenge themselves as well as others to be inventive for the greater of mankind may the world grow together.
On Tue Apr 8 15:01:28 2003 James Barclay wrote:
To me, Wiles' solution to the Fermat deserved a Nobel as did Witten and Greenburg's application of Conformal and Lie Algebras. Tanayama and Shimura should have gotten one, Venn should have, too. New mathematical models for use in a whole range of applications should be recognized. Pure mathematics is a thing all its own and may even be thought of as an art. Mandelbrot sets are an example.
It may be right to note that Symbolic Logic, once a part of Philosophy, is now a branch of mathematics all its own.
Then, there are people like Douglas Hofstadter and Martin Gardner that have opened the universe of the love of pure mathematics to millions.
Lets just give the entire Princeton University Dept. of Theoretical Math a couple of Nobels.
On Wed Dec 18 17:30:41 2002 George Petts wrote:
Andrew Wiles, having proved Fermats "last theorem," is obviously a remarkable number theorist. Fermats theorem, and the math used in Wiles proof will probably never prove beneficial in any practical application.
Today, if technology requires a mathematical solution that doesn't yield quickly to analytic methods, numerical methods and fast computers are employed.
On Mon, 9 Oct 2000 Karl Hao wrote: