Friday, August 3, 2007
Girolamo Cardano (1501-1576)
Mathematics, however, is, as it were, its own explanation; this, although it may seem hard to accept, is nevertheless true, for the recognition that a fact is so is the cause upon which we base the proof
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In his autobiography, De vita propria liber (The Book of My Life) Cardano describes that he was born, after failed attempts to induce an abortion. After an abusive childhood Cardano managed to get an education at the University of Pavia and at the University of Padua where he earned a Doctorate. Cardano became a skilled physician, an astrologer to the pope, and an accomplished mathematician. Cardano wrote books at an incredible rate (131 altogether plus manuscripts for another 111) on a wide variety of subjects: "mathematics, astronomy, astrology, physics, horoscopy, chess, gambling, consolation, marvelous cures, poisons, air, water, dreams, urine, teeth, the plague, wisdom, morals, and music.
Cardano's book on consolation was the source of Hamlet's famous remarks on sleep and death. Cardano's greatest work was his Ars Magna. This work about algebra included techniques (although not original) for solving cubic and quartic equations. Cardano's short booklet on probability, Liber de Ludo, a practical guide to gambling, including cards and dice and cheating, was not printed until 1663. In the mathematical sections Cardano discusses probability, and a part of the formula for the binomial distribution, and a form of the 'law of large numbers.' Cardano anticipated many of the fundamental results of Pascal and Fermat by more than a century. Cardano was imprisoned for heresy by the Inquisition in 1570 for casting the horoscope of Jesus Christ.
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