A Lot of Mathematicians Have Met Awful Fates

And one of them has decided to keep track
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 8, 2015 6:29 AM CDT
A Lot of Mathematicians Have Met Awful Fates
Archimedes was killed by a Roman soldier.   (Boris15 / Shutterstock.com)

Those who visit the homepage of a Rutgers mathematician could be checking his office hours or what papers he's written. But it's far more likely that they're there to access a link that appears, without fanfare, on a page mathematics PhD student Kellen Myers has simply titled Other. The "Mathematical Ends" page is a list of 19 mathematicians who have left this earth in unfortunate ways. There's the 20-year-old Galois, who died a day after he was shot in the stomach in 1832. There's Alan Turing and Dénes Konig, both of whom killed themselves. Then there's Gödel, who starved.

Why did Myers create the page, which he tells Real Clear Science is his site's most popular? He's not sure. "Perhaps this is a page in honor of those whose lives ended in an unpleasant fashion, both those listed and those not. Or, it may simply exist to satisfy one's curiosity," he writes atop his list. What it shouldn't be, according to Ross Pomeroy at Real Clear Science, is some kind of warning to mathematicians. It's a "small, biased sample, and its results cannot be ascribed to mathematicians as a group." Among the "highlights" of those results (full list here):

  • Galois was killed in a duel over politics or romance. His tragic last words: "Don't cry, Alfred! I need all my courage to die at age 20!" Fortunately, he managed to note down "what would become his mathematical legacy" the day before the duel, Myers writes.
  • Niels Abel, who lived to the ripe age of 26 in 1829, lived the life of the starving artist, with his work going unappreciated before he died of pneumonia. If he'd lived two days longer, he would have received a letter informing him he'd gotten a job as a professor.
  • Gödel is one of two mathematicians on the list who starved; he constantly feared his food was poisoned and got around this fear by having his wife sample everything first. But when she became sick and couldn't, he stopped eating; he died in 1978.
  • These horrible deaths have been going on for a while: The first one on the page dates approximately to the year 212 BC. Archimedes was killed by a Roman soldier—even though the order was not to hurt him.
More math reading: Descartes' skull reveals a secret about his life. (Read more mathematics stories.)

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