Omdat wij dit graag doen

Belgian_Queen_Mathilde

By Michael Thaidigsmann (Own work) 
[CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], 
via Wikimedia Commons

That’s what my former colleague Stefaan Vaes told the Queen of Belgium yesterday, upon receiving the Francqui Prize, one of the most prestigious Belgian prizes for young scholars or scientists.  It literally means “Because we do it gladly” (a better translation is probably “Because we like it”) and of course it is his answer to the rhetorical question, “Why do we do mathematics?”

It’s more or less the same answer I gave during my reading at Shakespeare and Co. last month.  I mention this here because I found this sentence in Vaes’s speech at the prize ceremony, in a paragraph in which he cited MWA, and specifically the chapters How to Explain Number Theory at a Dinner Party.

Vaes informed the audience that

Het is niet gemakkelijk voor een wiskundige om zijn werk voor te stellen aan het grote publiek.

You can say that again!  But now Queen Mathilde knows why we do it.

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6 thoughts on “Omdat wij dit graag doen

  1. Jon Awbrey

    A lot of what you’ve written lately touches on the role of aesthetics, beauty, calling, feeling, liking, love, etc. in a life of mathematical inquiry, which I take to be a part of inquiry in general. A cursory anamnesis of my undergraduate decade would bring up Plato’s Socrates’ big idea that love is not the belovèd but the lover, Freud’s principles of pleasure and unpleasure, and the Kreitlers’ theory of tension and relief, just off the top of my head.

    It’s a good question, one might even say, a summum bonum question.

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  2. Pingback: “The cliché of the unworldly mathematician irritates me” | Mathematics without Apologies, by Michael Harris

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