[first published March 2011]

Francis Bacon, polymath and scientific theorist, would be proud to read that Timothy Gowers has adopted two of his own techniques in the seeking of an advancement of mathematical learning. The first is what is a sort of linguistic colonialism, that is, the taking of words with specific meanings, and the re-defining of them. Gowers re-draws the word polymath, changing it from a word indicating a wide-ranging (and approaching comprehensive) knowledge into a rather facile pun. Bacon did the same, taking words like ‘form’ and ‘metaphysicke’ and reconceptualising them so that he might bend them to his own will: ‘my Conception & Notion may differ from the Auncient, yet I am studious to keepe the Auncient Termes’.1 Bacon understood that words had power, and that in re-defining them he made them work for him and against their original coiners. Continue reading