Paul Halmos


Paul Halmos
Paul Halmos

Born March 3, 1916(1916-03-03)
Budapest
Died October 2, 2006(2006-10-02) (aged 90)
Los Gatos, California, U.S.
Nationality Hungarian American
Fields Mathematics
Institutions Syracuse University
University of Chicago
University of Michigan
Indiana University
Santa Clara University
Alma mater Institute for Advanced Study
University of Illinois
Doctoral advisor Joseph Leo Doob
Doctoral students H. Arlen Brown
Bernard Galler
Eric Nordgren
Herman Rubin
Donald Sarason

Paul Richard Halmos (March 3, 1916 – October 2, 2006) was a Hungarian-born American mathematician who made fundamental advances in the areas of probability theory, statistics, operator theory, ergodic theory, and functional analysis (in particular, Hilbert spaces). He was also recognized as a great mathematical expositor.

Contents

Career

Halmos obtained his B.A. from the University of Illinois, majoring in philosophy and minoring in mathematics. He took only three years to obtain the degree, and was only 19 when he graduated. He then began a Ph.D. in philosophy, but after failing his masters' oral exams,[1] shifted to mathematics, graduating in 1938. Joseph Doob supervised his dissertation, titled Invariants of Certain Stochastic Transformations: The Mathematical Theory of Gambling Systems. Shortly thereafter, Halmos left for the Institute for Advanced Study, lacking both job and grant money. Six months later, he was working under John von Neumann, which proved a decisive experience. While at the Institute, Halmos wrote his first book, Finite Dimensional Vector Spaces, which immediately established his reputation as a fine expositor of mathematics.

Halmos taught at Syracuse University, the University of Chicago (1946–60), the University of Michigan, the University of California at Santa Barbara (about 1977), the University of Hawaii, and Indiana University. From his 1985 retirement from Indiana until his death, he was affiliated with the Mathematics department at Santa Clara University.

Accomplishments

In a series of papers reprinted in his 1962 Algebraic Logic, Halmos devised polyadic algebras, an algebraic version of first-order logic differing from the better known cylindric algebras of Alfred Tarski and his students. An elementary version of polyadic algebra is described in monadic Boolean algebra.

In addition to his original contributions to mathematics, Halmos was an unusually clear and engaging expositor of university mathematics. This was so even though Halmos arrived in the USA at 13 years of age and never lost his Hungarian accent. He chaired the American Mathematical Society committee that wrote the AMS style guide for academic mathematics, published in 1973. In 1983, he received the AMS's Steele Prize for exposition. Some of his classics were:

  • How to read mathematics
  • How to write mathematics
  • How to speak mathematics.

In the American Scientist 56(4): 375–389, Halmos argued that mathematics is a creative art, and that mathematicians should be seen as artists, not number crunchers. He discussed the division of the field into mathology and mathophysics, further arguing that mathematicians and painters think and work in related ways.

Halmos's 1985 "automathography" I Want to Be a Mathematician is an account of what it was like to be an academic mathematician in 20th century America. He called the book “automathography” rather than “autobiography”, because its focus is almost entirely on his life as a mathematician, not his personal life. The book contains the following quote on Halmos' view of what doing mathematics means:

Don't just read it; fight it! Ask your own questions, look for your own examples, discover your own proofs. Is the hypothesis necessary? Is the converse true? What happens in the classical special case? What about the degenerate cases? Where does the proof use the hypothesis?

In these memoirs, Halmos claims to have invented the "iff" notation for the words "if and only if" and to have been the first to use the “tombstone” notation to signify the end of a proof, and this is generally agreed to be the case. The tombstone symbol (Unicode U+220E) is sometimes called a halmos.[2]

In 2005, Halmos and his wife Viriginia funded the Euler Book Prize, an annual award given by the Mathematical Association of America for a book that is likely to improve the view of mathematics among the public. The first prize was given in 2007, the 300th anniversary of Leonhard Euler's birth.[3]

Books by Halmos

See also

Notes

  1. ^ The Legend of John Von Neumann. P. R. Halmos. The American Mathematical Monthly, Vol. 80, No. 4. (Apr., 1973), pp. 382–394.
  2. ^ "The symbol is definitely not my invention — it appeared in popular magazines (not mathematical ones) before I adopted it, but, once again, I seem to have introduced it into mathematics. It is the symbol that sometimes looks like ▯, and is used to indicate an end, usually the end of a proof. It is most frequently called the 'tombstone', but at least one generous author referred to it as the 'halmos'.", Halmos (1985) p. 403.
  3. ^ The Mathematical Association of America's Euler Book Prize, retrieved 2011-02-01.

References

External links


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