Cantor, Georg

Georg Cantor
3 Mar 1845 – 6 Jan 1918

A 19th century German mathematician and the founder of modern set theory. Cantor’s concern with the set-theoretic nature of the real numbers began while he was working on certain properties of trigonometric series during the early 1870’s. Inspired by the work of his friend Richard Dedekind, Cantor proved in 1873 that the rational numbers are countable, and later the same year proved that the real numbers themselves are uncountable.

These proofs introduced important methods, including the notion of a one-to-one correspondence and the method of diagonalization. Cantor’s results were counter-intuitive and broke with established dogma about the nature of infinity. Consequently, he became a controversial figure, opposed by some mathematicians (e.g., Leopold Kronecker) who used their influence to stifle Cantor’s career as much as possible. This opposition exacerbated Cantor’s predisposition to severe depression, and he ultimately died, of a heart attack, in a sanitorium.