"Father of Modern Mathematics"
December 13, 2004
René Descartes was born in La Haye, Touraine (France) in March of 1596 and died at Stockholm on February 11, 1650. René, the second of a family of two sons and one daughter, was sent to the Jesuit School at La Flêche at the early age of eight. Since he was of poor health he was permitted to lie in bed till late in the mornings, a custom which he always followed. When Pascal visited in 1647 he told him that the only way to do good work in mathematics and to preserve his health was never to allow anyone to make him get up in the morning before he felt like it On leaving school in 1612 Descartes went to Paris to be introduced to the world of fashion. Through the medium of the Jesuits, he met Mydorge, and renewed his childhood friendship with Mersenne. Together they devoted two years, from 1615 1617, to the study of mathematics. During that time a man of position usually entered either the army or the church and so in 1617 Descartes joined the army of Prince Maurice of Orange, then at Breda. Walking through the streets one day in Breda he noticed a placard in Dutch which made him quite curious. He asked a stranger to translate it into either French or Latin. The stranger was Isaac Beeckman, the head of the Dutch College at Dort. He told Descartes he would do so only if he would answer it for him. The placard was a challenge to the world to solve a certain geometrical problem. Descartes worked it out within a few hours, and a close friendship had formed between the two.This unexpected test of his mathematical attainments made the unpleasant life of the army distasteful to him, but because of family influence and tradition he remained a soldier. He was persuaded at the commencement of the Thirty Years' War he was persuaded to volunteer under Count de Bucquoy in the Bavarian army. He continued all this time...