Martin Davis's 'Engines of Logic'

Posted by Jim Andrews | Wed Mar 12th 2008 7:48 a.m.

If you're interested to understand digital media, let me recommend Martin Davis's book 'Engines of Logic: Mathematicians and the Origin of the Computer' (paperback).

It looks at the development of the computer as "Leibniz's dream". Davis looks at the life and work of Leibniz, Frege, Boole, Cantor, Hilbert, Godel and Turing in relation to the development of the computer.

It's a very intriguing book in its biographical sketches of these men. It looks at their trials and successes. Cantor was in and out of sanatoria. Godel starved himself to death out of paranoia that his food was being poisoned. Turing (probably) committed suicide by eating a poisoned apple. Leibniz had a day job writing the story of his boss's family and his boss valued that more than Leibniz's own work as one of the pre-emminent intellectuals of human history.

But what do these mathematicians/logicians have to do with the development of the computer? The book looks at the development of the computer in relation to the development of the languages and theory of symbolic logic. It's been remarked by people who built computers out of Mechano that computers are made of logic, not silicon.

You don't need to be a mathematician/logician to read this book. Though, if you are, you'll also dig it. Martin Davis is an emminent logician from New York who taught at the Courant Institute and has done significant work on undecidability, among other things.

It's a terrific book both in the 'history of ideas' and in the human dimensions of the lives of these giants of math/logic.

What's in it for digital artists? Well, I said at the outset that it's a good book for those interested to understand digital media. Not at the nuts and bolts level. But at the level of history, at the level of the relation of Godel and Turing's work to what the medium is saying.

And then tell me.

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