“You don’t have to believe in God, but you have
to believe in The Book.”—Paul Erdős
Paul Erdős liked to talk about The Book, in which God maintains the perfect proofs for mathematical theorems, following the dictum of G. H. Hardy that there is no permanent place for ugly mathematics.
JOEL SPENCER: “Paul talks about The Book. The Book has all the theorems of mathematics. Theorems can be proven in a lot of different ways, but in The Book there is only one proof and it is the one that is the clearest proof, the one that gives the most insight, the most aesthetic proof. It’s what he calls The Book proof. And sometimes when there’s a problem and somebody solves it and the proof is not so beautiful, then he’ll say, “Well okay, but let’s look for The Book proof; let’s try to find The Book proof.” And this is the sense of mathematics, that…that The Book is there, the theorems have an existence of their own. And what we’re doing is we’re just trying to uncover. We’re trying to read the pages of The Book. We don’t create mathematics. What we do is we read the pages of The Book. We discover the pages of The Book. So when he goes from university to university, and he talks about problems, and he asks everybody to try to solve these problems, it doesn’t matter who solves the problem. It really doesn’t matter to him, because all of us are in the same venture. We’re all just trying to uncover the pages. And sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we find these beautiful theorems.”
View the video of Joel Spencer describing The Book here.
Proofs from THE BOOK is an effort by Martin Aigner and Günter Ziegler to reveal an approximation to a portion of The Book