Nautilus

The Deepest Uncertainty

Georg Cantor died in 1918 in a sanatorium in Halle, Germany. A pre-eminent mathematician, he had laid the foundation for the theory of infinite numbers in the 1870s. At the time, his ideas received hostile opposition from prominent mathematicians in Europe, chief among them Leopold Kronecker, once Cantor’s teacher. In his first known bout of depression, Cantor wrote 52 letters to the Swedish mathematician Gösta Mittag-Leffler, each of which mentioned Kronecker.

But it was not just rejection by Kronecker that pushed Cantor to depression; it was his inability to prove a particular mathematical conjecture he formulated in 1878, and was convinced was true, called the Continuum Hypothesis. But if he blamed himself, he did so needlessly. The

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