# Devlin, Keith 1947-

# Devlin, Keith 1947-

**(Keith J. Devlin, Keith James Devlin)**

*PERSONAL:* Born March 16, 1947, in Hull, England; immigrated to United States, 1987; son of James and Mary Devlin; married Janet Carey, December 27, 1967; children: Naomi, Melissa. *Education:* King’s College, London, B.Sc. (with honors), 1968; University of Bristol, Ph.D., 1971.

*ADDRESSES: Office*—CSLI, Cordura Hall, 210 Panama St., Stanford, CA 94305-4115. *E-mail*—[email protected] stanford.edu.

*CAREER:* Author and educator. University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway, scientific visitor, 1971, scientific assistant in mathematics, 1972-73; Victoria University of Manchester, Manchester, England, temporary lecturer in mathematics, 1973; University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany, scientific assistant in mathematics, 1974; University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany, scientific assistant in mathematics, 1974-76; University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, assistant professor of mathematics, 1976; University of Lancaster, Bailrigg, England, lecturer, 1977-79, reader in mathematics, 1979-87; Stanford University, Stanford, CA, visiting associate professor of mathematics, 1987-88, associate professor of mathematics and philosophy, 1988-89; Colby College, Waterville, ME, Carter Professor and chairperson, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, 1989-93; St. Mary’s College of California, Moraga, professor of mathematics and dean of School of Science, 1993-2001; Stanford University, Center for the Study of Language and Information, senior researcher and executive director, consulting professor of mathematics; Stanford Media X research network and H-STAR institute, cofounder, beginning 2001. University of Aberdeen, Milner scholar, 1971-72; Banach Center (Warsaw, Poland), scientific visitor, 1973; Nuffield Lecturer in Canada, 1981; University of Bielefeld, lecturer, 1991; Utica College, Distinguished College Lecturer, 1993; University of Pittsburgh, consulting research professor; visiting professor at Pennsylvania State University, 1978, University of Toronto, 1979, University of Colorado at Boulder, 1980, University of Essen, 1981, University of Gdansk, 1982, and University of Siena, 1984. U.S. Joint Policy Board for Mathematics, member of Public Resource Committee; National Council on Undergraduate Research, member; National Public Radio (NPR), “Math Guy” commentator.

*MEMBER:* World Economic Forum (fellow), American Association for the Advancement of Science (fellow), Association for Computing Machinery, American Mathematical Society (member of council), Mathematical Association of America, Association of Symbolic Logic, New York Academy of Science, London Mathematical Society.

*AWARDS, HONORS:* Grants from System Development Foundation, 1989-93, and National Science Foundation, 1992; honorary M.A. from Colby College, 1990; *Logic and Information* was selected “most outstanding book in computer science and data processing,” American Association of Publishers, 1991; award from U.S. Joint Policy Board for Mathematics Communications, 2000. Recipient of the Pythagoras Prize, the Peano Prize, and the Carl Sagan Award.

## WRITINGS:

*Aspects of Constructibility,* Springer Verlag (New York, NY), 1973.

(With H. Johnsbraaten) *The Souslin Problem,* Springer Verlag (New York, NY), 1974.

*The Axiom of Constructibility: A Guide for the Mathematician,* Springer Verlag, (New York, NY), 1977.

*Fundamentals of Contemporary Set Theory,* Springer Verlag, (New York, NY), 1979, 2nd edition, 1993.

*Sets, Functions, and Logic,* Chapman & Hall (New York, NY), 1981, 3rd edition published as *Sets, Functions, and Logic: An Introduction to Abstract Mathematics,* Chapman & Hall/CRC (Boca Raton, FL), 2004.

*Constructibility,* Springer Verlag (New York, NY), 1984.

*Microchip Mathematics: Number Theory for Computer Users,* Shiva (Nantwich, England), 1984.

*Micro Maths,* Macmillan Educational (New York, NY), 1984.

*Mathematics: The New Golden Age,* Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1988.

*Logic and Information,* Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1991.

*All the Math That’s Fit to Print,* Mathematical Association of America (Washington, DC), 1994.

*Mathematics, the Science of Patterns: The Search for Order in Life, Mind, and the Universe,* Scientific American Library (New York, NY), 1994.

*Plato’s Mirror: Mathematical Reflections of Mind and Universe,* W.H. Freeman (New York, NY), 1994.

(With Duska Rosenberg) *Language at Work: Analyzing Communication Breakdown in the Workplace to Inform Systems Design,* CSLI Publications (Stanford, CA), 1996.

*An Electronic Companion to Calculus* (computer file), Cogito Learning Media (New York, NY), 1997.

*Goodbye, Descartes: The End of Logic and the Search for a New Cosmology of the Mind,* Wiley (New York, NY), 1997.

*The Language of Mathematics: Making the Invisible Visible,* W.H. Freeman (New York, NY), 1998.

*Life by the Numbers,* Wiley (New York, NY), 1998.

*Infosense: Turning Information into Knowledge,* W.H. Freeman (New York, NY), 1999.

*The Math Gene: How Mathematical Thinking Evolved and Why Numbers Are like Gossip,* Basic Books (New York, NY), 2000.

*The Millennium Problems: The Seven Greatest Unsolved Mathematical Puzzles of Our Time,* Basic Books (New York, NY), 2002.

*The Math Instinct: Why You’re a Mathematical Genius (along with Lobsters, Birds, Cats and Dogs),* Thunder’s Mouth Press (New York, NY), 2005.

(With Gay Lorden) *The Numbers behind NUMB3RS: Solving Crime with Mathematics,* Plume (New York, NY), 2007.

Coauthor of the television special “*A Mathematical Mystery Tour,*” broadcast as part of the *Nova* series in the United States, and as part of the *Horizon* series, BBC-TV, 1984; contributor to Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) series *Life by the Numbers,* 1998. Columnist, *Manchester Guardian,* 1983-90; editor of the column “*Computers and Mathematics,” Notices of the American Mathematical Society.* Contributor of articles and reviews to academic journals. Editor, Focus, Mathematical Association of America. Author of column “*Devlin ’s Angle*” for the online journal *MAA Online.*

*SIDELIGHTS:* Through books, newspaper columns, and television shows, Keith Devlin has sought to expand appreciation for mathematics as not only an approach to problem solving but also a creative endeavor that reveals the uniqueness of the human mind. Devlin’s books are written for general readers who have some background in higher math, and his goal, to quote Booklist correspondent Gilbert Taylor, “is to communicate the feelings mathematicians experience.” In a review on the *Mathematical Association of America* Web site, a critic noted that Devlin “presents mathematics as a living human enterprise, both a science and an art.”

Devlin was born and raised in England. He moved to the United States in 1987 and has been at Sanford University since 2001. He can also be heard on National Public Radio (NPR) as a commentator on mathematical topics. While some of his writings—notably those on information theories and the evolution of language and communication—are for specialists, he has carved a niche among the general public as a translator of complex mathematical issues and discoveries. As one *Publishers Weekly* reviewer put it, he “seeks to demystify mathematics by applying basic principles to a wide range of reader-friendly subjects.”

The author of over a score of books on mathematics and related topics, Devlin focuses on the historical development and current depth of research in his 1994 *Mathematics, the Science of Patterns: The Search for Order in Life, Mind, and the Universe.* Here Devlin looks into topics from numbers theory to topology. J.A. Rial, writing in American Scientist, noted: “The mathematical level of the book is elementary, but the ideas discussed are anything but elementary.” Rial also observed that Devlin “writes in clear and precise prose, which is at times brilliantly conceived, in order to communicate subtle mathematical ideas with a minimum of intimidating equations.” Chapters deal with subjects from counting to shapes, and feature the work of mathematicians from the ancient Greek astronomer Hip-parchus to Kurt Gödel in the twentieth century. Along the way, Devlin also looks at music theory and “ends with a delightful description of topology, the theory of knots and one more account of Fermat’s last theorem,” as Rial further observed.

In the 1997 *Goodbye, Descartes: The End of Logic and the Search for a New Cosmology of the Mind,* Devlin provides a discussion, via a historical survey, of the basis and limits of thought, reason, and language. In this work, as *Booklist* contributor Mary Carroll noted, Devlin maintains that “logic and linguistics don’t adequately explain the most characteristic human acts.” Using Descartes as a symbol for scientific logic, Devlin posits that such logic cannot provide us with an understanding of the human mind, and that therefore artificial intelligence is out of our grasp. For Carroll, *Goodbye, Descartes* was “not a simple read, but accessible enough for the sort of reader likely to be drawn to this subject.” Similarly, a *Publishers Weekly* reviewer found the same book “a fascinating journey to the edges of logical thinking and beyond.” And writing in the *Wilson Quarterly,* Paul R. Gross felt “Devlin avoids technicalities without Disneyfying the issues.”

A tie-in to a PBS television series of the same name, Devlin’s 1998 *Life by the Numbers* deals with mathematical topics from fractals to probability theory. A *Publishers Weekly* contributor felt Devlin takes “readers through each crisply explained theory and application while offering generous doses of math history,” and that he further provides “as friendly and painless an introduction as one could hope for on the subject.” Devlin offers a similar popularized account in *The Language of Mathematics: Making the Invisible Visible,* a work, according to *Booklist* contributor Gilbert Taylor, that makes the “discussion of abstract subjects engrossing.” Devlin manages to make the mathematical experience interesting by incorporating biographical profiles of such men as Fermat and Leibniz.

Devlin posits a biological source for mathematics in *The Math Gene: How Mathematical Thinking Evolved and Why Numbers Are Like Gossip.* Just as linguists say that humans have an instinct for language, Devlin attempts to demonstrate our innate proclivity for numbers. He covers current experiments such as those involving chimpanzees and their use of symbols to denote numerical quantities, and he attempts to link the rise of language and numbers. Devlin develops his argument via the fossil record that shows the growth in the size of the human brain, as well as through an exploration of language and its structure. For Lynn Arthur Steen, writing in *American Scientist,* Devlin presents a “clear and engaging analysis.” A reviewer for *Publishers Weekly* thought that many readers would want two different books from Devlin on the subject: one dealing with language and one with numbers. The same reviewer went on to observe: “Most readers, though, will appreciate the broad, accessible syntheses he does provide.”

Devlin continues this discussion in the 2004 title, *The Math Instinct: Why You’re a Mathematical Genius (along with Lobsters, Birds, Cats, and Dogs).* In the book, Devlin examines two different forms of mathematical ability, natural and abstract. The former is, according to the author, hardwired into humans and other animals such as chimps. It allows for a basic and instinctual sense of subtraction and addition. However, abstract mathematical skills are learned and are highly symbolic, leading to calculus and higher mathematics. For Devlin, as *Discover* reviewer Alex Stone commented, “it’s the symbolic language of math that separates us from other animals.” Reviewing the same book in *American Scientist,* Fenella Saunders observed, “Devlin tries to make the subject less intimidating by demonstrating that math is all around us.”

In *The Millennium Problems: The Seven Greatest Unsolved Mathematical Puzzles of Our Time,* Devlin gives an overview of the seven problems that the Clay Mathematics Institute proposed in 2000. An award of one million dollars would be granted for solutions to each of these problems, including such teasers as the Poincaire conjecture and Riemann hypothesis. This contest had its roots in an earlier one, set by the German mathematician David Hilbert, who posited twenty-three problems that needed solving. These problems, in fact, set the stage for much of the research in twentieth-century mathematics. Writing in *American Scientist,* Steve Kennedy noted two concerns he had, not with Devlin’s book, but with the Clay Mathematics Institute’s contest: “Why has the Clay Institute offered million-dollar prizes for the solutions of mathematics problems? and Is this good for mathematics?” A reviewer for *Science News* was more pragmatic: “Devlin profiles each problem and offers insight into how it came about and its significance.” *Guardian Online* Web site contributor Marcus du Sautoy noted that “the diversity of the problems gives Devlin the chance to take the reader on a whistlestop tour of the world of mathematics.” The same reviewer further praised Devlin as “a master at choosing the right images and metaphors to portray difficult concepts.”

## BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

**PERIODICALS**

*American Scientist,* July, 1995, J.A. Rial, “The Gate and the Key of the Sciences,” p. 369; November, 2000, Lynn Arthur Steen, “A Mind for Math,” p. 555; March, 2003, Steve Kennedy, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?,” p. 180; November, 2005, Fenella Saunders, review of *The Math Instinct: Why You’re a Mathematical Genius (along with Lobsters, Birds, Cats and Dogs),* p. 572.

*Booklist,* January 1, 1997, Mary Carroll, review of *Goodbye, Descartes: The End of Logic and the Search for a New Cosmology of the Mind,* p. 781; December 1, 1998, Gilbert Taylor, review of *The Language of Mathematics: Making the Invisible Visible,* p. 628.

*Choice,* July 1, 1998, R.L. Pour, review of *Life by the Numbers,* p. 1887.

*Discover,* January, 2001, Josie Glausiusz, “The Joy of Math,” p. 26; May, 2005, Alex Stone, review of *The Math Instinct,* p. 77.

*Economist,* October 16, 1999, review of *The Language of Mathematics,* p. 12.

*London Review of Books,* July 22, 2004, “Seven Million Dollar Question,” p. 22.

*Mathematics Teacher,* April, 1999, review of *Life by the Numbers,* p. 371; September, 1999, review of *The Language of Mathematics,* p. 552.

*New Scientist,* April 18, 1998, review of *Life by the Numbers,* p. 46; May 30, 1998, review of *Goodbye, Descartes,* p. 49; February 12, 2000, review of *In-fosense: Turning Information into Knowledge,* p. 49.

*New Statesman,* April 24, 1998, Robert Winder, review of *Life by the Numbers,* p. 47.

*Psychology Today,* March 1, 2005, review of *The Math Instinct,* p. 36.

*Publishers Weekly,* November 4, 1996, review of *Goodbye, Descartes,* p. 54; March 23, 1998, review of *Life by the Numbers,* p. 87; July 17, 2000, review of *The Math Gene: How Mathematical Thinking Evolved and Why Numbers Are like Gossip,* p. 184; July 12, 2004, John F. Baker, “The ‘Math Guy’ on NPR’s Weekend Edition, Keith Devlin, Has Written a Book Called the *Math Instinct* That Suggests All Humans, and Even Some Animals, Have Innate Mathematical Abilities, Optimistic Though That May Sound to Some,” p. 8.

*School Library Journal,* July, 2003, Sheryl Fowler, review of *The Millennium Problems: The Seven Greatest Unsolved Mathematical Puzzles of Our Time,* p. 152; April, 2004, review of *The Millennium Problems,* p. 58.

*Science Books & Films,* January, 2000, review of *Life by the Numbers,* p. 20; May, 2000, review of *Mathematics: The New Golden Age,* p. 111.

*Science News,* November 2, 2002, review of *The Millennium Problems,* p. 287; May 7, 2005, review of *The Math Instinct,* p. 303.

*SciTech Book News,* June, 1998, review of *Life by the Numbers,* p. 22; March, 1999, review of *The Language of Mathematics,* p. 39; March, 2000, review of *Mathematics,* p. 30; September, 2000, review of *The Language of Mathematics,* p. 28; December, 2000, review of *The Math Gene,* p. 18; September, 2004, review of *Sets, Functions, and Logic: An Introduction to Abstract Mathematics,* p. 17.

*Teaching Children Mathematics,* May, 1999, review of *Life by the Numbers,* p. 552.

*Times Higher Education Supplement,* September 17, 2004, “A Dish of Water and Tea May Win You $1 Million,” p. 28.

*Wilson Quarterly,* winter, 1997, Paul R. Gross, review of Goodbye, *Descartes,* p. 92.

## ONLINE

*Cogito,*http://www.cogito.org/ (April 18, 2007), “Cogito Interview: Keith Devlin, the Math Guy.”

*Guardian Online,*http://books.guardian.co.uk/ (January 24, 2004), Marcus du Sautoy, review of *The Millennium Problems*.

*Mathematical Association of America,*http://www.maa.org/ (September 9, 2000), review of *All the Math That’s Fit to Print.*

*PopScience Book Reviews,*http://www.popscience.wordpress.com/ (September 22, 2007), review of *The Math Gene*.

*Stanford University Web site,*http://www.stanford.edu/ (January 28, 2008), “Dr. Keith Devlin.”

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**Devlin, Keith 1947-**