The Death of Proof; Mathematical American; Exclusive Online Issues; by John Horgan; 6 Page(s)
Legend has it that when Pythagoras and his followers discovered the theorem that bears his name in the sixth century B.C., they slaughtered an ox and feasted in celebration. And well they might. The relation they found between the sides of a right triangle held true not sometimes or most of the time but always - regardless of whether the triangle was a piece of silk or a plot of land or marks on papyrus. It seemed like magic, a gift from the gods. No wonder so many thinkers, from Plato to Kant, came to believe that mathematics offers the purest truths humans are permitted to know.
That faith seemed reaffirmed this past June when Andrew J. Wiles of Princeton University revealed during a meeting at the University of Cambridge that he had solved Fermat's last theorem. This problem, one of the most famous in mathematics, was posed more than 350 years ago, and its roots extend back to Pythagoras himself. Since no oxen were available, Wiles's listeners showed their appreciation by clapping their hands.