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Georg Cantor (1845 – 1918)


Russian-born mathematician and philosopher of Danish and Austrian descent, most famous as the creator of set theory, and of Cantor's theorem which implies the existence of an "infinity of infinities.
Georg Cantor
In order for there to be a variable quantity in some mathematical study, the domain of its variability must strictly speaking be known beforehand through a definition. However, this domain cannot itself be something variable, since otherwise each fixed support for the study would collapse. Thus this domain is a definite, actually infinite set of values. Hence each potential infinite, if it is rigorously applicable mathematically, presupposes an actual infinite.
Cantor quotes
Mathematics is in its development entirely free and is only bound in the self-evident respect that its concepts must both be consistent with each other, and also stand in exact relationships, ordered by definitions, to those concepts which have previously been introduced and are already at hand and established. In particular, in the introduction of new numbers, it is only obligated to give definitions of them which will bestow such a determinacy and, in certain circumstances, such a relationship to the other numbers that they can in any given instance be precisely distinguished. As soon as a number satisfies all these conditions, it can and must be regarded in mathematics as existent and real.
Cantor
I have never proceeded from any Genus supremum of the actual infinite. Quite the contrary, I have rigorously proved that there is absolutely no Genus supremum of the actual infinite. What surpasses all that is finite and transfinite is no Genus; it is the single, completely individual unity in which everything is included, which includes the Absolute, incomprehensible to the human understanding. This is the Actus Purissimus, which by many is called God.
I am so in favor of the actual infinite that instead of admitting that Nature abhors it, as is commonly said, I hold that Nature makes frequent use of it everywhere, in order to show more effectively the perfections of its Author. Thus I believe that there is no part of matter which is not — I do not say divisible — but actually divisible; and consequently the least particle ought to be considered as a world full of an infinity of different creatures.




Cantor Georg quotes
A set is a Many that allows itself to be thought of as a One.
Cantor Georg
The essence of mathematics lies entirely in its freedom.
Georg Cantor quotes
I discovered the works of Euler and my perception of the nature of mathematics underwent a dramatic transformation. I was de-Bourbakized, stopped believing in sets, and was expelled from the Cantorian paradise.
Georg Cantor
What I declare and believe to have demonstrated in this work as well as in earlier papers is that following the finite there is a transfinite (transfinitum)--which might also be called supra-finite (suprafinitum), that is, there is an unlimited ascending ladder of modes, which in its nature is not finite but infinite, but which can be determined as can the finite by determinate, well-defined and distinguishable numbers.
Cantor Georg quotes
Why was Cantor so vehemently opposed to infinitesimals? In his valuable essay, "The Metaphysics of the Calculus," Abraham Robinson suggests that Cantor already had enough problems trying to defend transfinite numbers. It seems likely that, consciously or otherwise, Cantor deemed it politically wise to go along with orthodox mathematicians on the question of infinitesimals. Cantor's stance might be compared to that of a pro-marijuana Congressional candidate who advocates harsh penalties for the sale or use of heroin.
Cantor
The actual infinite arises in three contexts: first when it is realized in the most complete form, in a fully independent otherworldly being, in Deo, where I call it the Absolute Infinite or simply Absolute; second when it occurs in the contingent, created world; third when the mind grasps it in abstracto as a mathematical magnitude, number or order type.
Cantor Georg
The old and oft-repeated proposition "Totum est majus sua parte" [the whole is larger than the part] may be applied without proof only in the case of entities that are based upon whole and part; then and only then is it an undeniable consequence of the concepts "totum" and "pars". Unfortunately, however, this "axiom" is used innumerably often without any basis and in neglect of the necessary distinction between "reality" and "quantity", on the one hand, and "number" and "set", on the other, precisely in the sense in which it is generally false.
Georg Cantor
I realize that in this undertaking I place myself in a certain opposition to views widely held concerning the mathematical infinite and to opinions frequently defended on the nature of numbers.




Georg Cantor quotes
The totality of all alephs cannot be conceived as a determinate, well-defined, and also a finished set. This is the punctum saliens, and I venture to say that this completely certain theorem, provable rigorously from the definition of the totality of all alephs, is the most important and noblest theorem of set theory. One must only understand the expression "finished" correctly. I say of a set that it can be thought of as finished (and call such a set, if it contains infinitely many elements, "transfinite" or "suprafinite") if it is possible without contradiction (as can be done with finite sets) to think of all its elements as existing together, and to to think of the set itself as a compounded thing for itself; or (in other words) if it is possible to imagine the set as actually existing with the totality of its elements.
Georg Cantor
Every transfinite consistent multiplicity, that is, every transfinite set, must have a definite aleph as its cardinal number.
Cantor quotes
Infinity, in its first form (the improper-infinite) presents itself as a variable finite [veranderliches Endliches]; in the other form (which I call the proper infinite [Eigentlich-unendliche]) it appears as a thoroughly determinate [bestimmtes] infinite.
Cantor Georg
The potential infinite means nothing other than an undetermined, variable quantity, always remaining finite, which has to assume values that either become smaller than any finite limit no matter how small, or greater than any finite limit no matter how great.
Cantor Georg quotes
After being relegated to an obscure mid-tier university, blocked from leading journals and openly mocked by his peers, including his former mentor, the late 19th century German mathematician found refuge for his groundbreaking work on infinities in, of all places, the Roman Catholic Church... Catholic theologians welcomed Cantor's ideas, which provided a workable way of understanding mathematical infinities, as evidence that humans could grasp the infinite and could also, therefore, have a greater understanding of God, himself infinite.
What a welcome relief this must have been to the chronically depressed Cantor! As John D. Barrow writes in The Infinite Book: A Short Guide to the Boundless, Timeless and Endless, Cantor "started to tell his friends that he had not been the inventor of the ideas about infinity that he had published. He was merely a mouthpiece, inspired by God to communicate parts of the mind of God to everyone else."
Georg Cantor
There is no doubt that we cannot do without variable quantities in the sense of the potential infinite. But from this very fact the necessity of the actual infinite can be demonstrated.
Georg Cantor quotes
No one shall expel us from the Paradise that Cantor has created.
Georg Cantor
Had Mittag-Leffler had his way, I should have to wait until the year 1984, which to me seemed too great a demand!
Cantor Georg
The fear of infinity is a form of myopia that destroys the possibility of seeing the actual infinite, even though it in its highest form has created and sustains us, and in its secondary transfinite forms occurs all around us and even inhabits our minds.


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