🔒 Numbers and Humanity

In the final weeks of World War I, Oswald Spengler published Der Untergang des Abendlandes, tamely translated as The Decline of the West. Its almost a thousand pages of turgid Teutonic prose swept over mangled Europe like a tidal wave, becoming the still-young century’s best-seller. (A second volume was published in 1922, to less rapturous attention.) It offered a diagnosis to a world convulsed in mass-produced death, an explanation of the “last spiritual crisis that will involve all Europe and America.” According to Spengler, the essence of modern civilization — its Faustian soul, he called it — was a type of mathematics that was created in the seventeenth century by Descartes, Galileo, Leibniz, and Pascal. That mathematics had proven powerful but also lethal, for “formulas and laws spread rigidity over the face of nature, numbers make dead.” Now the West and its mathematics, “having exhausted every inward possibility and fulfilled

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