Who is trying to prove the existence of
It must be a quite diffused opinion among journalists and other
kind of writers too, that "mathematician" makes rhyme with
"mental disease". Being the subject of this kind of unhappy
generalizations is of course not an exclusive of mathematicians, and after all
there are much more dangerous distortions of reality one could complain about:
but I shall complain anyway about the famous best-seller "A beautiful
mind" by Sylvia Nasar.
That book is a biography of John Forbes Nash Jr, one of the most
brilliant and original mathematician of the past century (and he is still
working!). Nash has also suffered for a long part of his life of schizophrenia.
A (questionable) opinion sustained in the book is that Nash's mental disease was
more or less latent, and remained such, until he had to face a big delusion: one
of his most important results, the one that should have granted him the Field's
Medal, had been proved two years before him by an unknown Italian mathematician,
Ennio De Giorgi, that published the result on an obscure Italian mathematical
journal, having more or less regional diffusion.
Nasar reports that De Giorgi came from a
poor family and that he had no life outside mathematics , no family of his
own or other close relationships, and even later, he literally lived in his
office. Despite occupying the most prestigious mathematical chair in Italy, he
lived a life of ascetic poverty, completely devoted to his research, teaching
and, as time went on, a growing preoccupation with mysticism that led him to
attempt to prove the existence of God through mathematics.
This seems written according to the following "recipe for a
perfect lie": 50% thruth, 40% distortion of thruth, 10% pure fantasy. I
don't think this was done with a bad intent: more probably it was just a mixture
of superficiality and of narrative needs... but I have found it really sad,
mainly because one of De Giorgi's deepest legacies is in fact his point of view
about the interplay between science and religion.
It is beyond the scope of this page to account correctly on De
Giorgi's philosophy. In the following I have just collected some information
from "Ennio De Giorgi: Anche la Scienza ha bisogno di
sognare" edited by Franco Bassani, Antonio Marino and Carlo Sbordone,
that is a rich source of documents mainly related to his non-scientific activity.
I hope this can make some reader curious to know more.
Ennio De Giorgi was born in 1928 in Lecce, where his (wealthy) family was
appreciated for its cultural effort. His father died when he was young and he grew up with his
mother, his brother Mario and his sister Rosa. During all his life he remained
in strict touch with them (for example, when he was
honoured by the French Academy of Sciences, he refused the rich hotel that they
prepared for him in order to visit Paris with his sister and the daughter of his
From his family, in particular from the mother, he learned a deep religious
faith, simple and concrete, of which he gave witness to others through the
example of his life...