A 17-year-old boy from the
stream helps us understand
how far mathematics can take on this
<<I know a shepherd.
I don't know how he found himself faced with some
mathematical tables. He started to write down the
numbers, to do calculations; eventually he reached
the point of gaining his doctorate in mathematics.
And so now he does
He could have had a little
farm and lived quite comfortably while still living
with nature...he would have been
Ali, well! Now he is with
his numbers. He is no longer concerned with sheep.
He no longer knows anything about
In fact, it would astonish
me if he were still to know anything of the outside
He studies, I don't know
what after all; I no longer know what he does now.
In the end, he abandoned
his down-to-earth job, something natural that gave
him a certain amount of physical exercise and kept
him alive and breathing.
Whereas here he is now,
enclosed in a laboratory doing
calculations. He suffocates in
figures ... He thinks
Well, I don't know,
ultimately ... we are mad ... we are
In the end, we have little
chance of getting to that level. That's how it is,
Lunatics in the end ...
People say that certain children who know how to
calculate roots to what ever power were mentally
deficient ... oh, well! Fortunately, there's little
chance of our going mad, because not many of us
become top mathematicians.>>
Note during this passage how
the student is gradually taken by his
From the opening "I knew a
shepherd" to the final "I don't know" he moves on
to a more impersonal "we" when it comes to the
subject of madness.
This fear of madness, or more
plainly this "risk of no longer having your feet on
the ground" may surely be explained by the fact
that for certain individuals, the need to invest
energy in abstract representations, which have not
yet been incorporated into their psychic reality
and into their own mental mechanisms, seems to
constitute a traumatic experience.
It breaks relationship with
reality, and cuts off a channel of instinctive
discharge - that of the flow of sadism sublimated
into an activity of mental control of the outside
The ego finds itself somewhat
disconnected, in danger of a loss of meaningfulness
and of depersonalisation