Frank Ramsey, the great Cambridge philosopher, economist, and mathematician, was a superstar in all three disciplines, despite dying at the age of 26 in 1930. One way to glimpse the sheer genius of this extraordinary young man is by looking at some of the things that bear his name. My favourite was coined by Donald Davidson: the Ramsey Effect is the phenomenon of discovering that your exciting and apparently original philosophical discovery has been already presented, and presented more elegantly, by Frank Ramsey.
Ramsey published a grand total of eight pages in pure mathematics. He had been working the Entscheidungsproblem in the foundations of mathematics, which asked whether there is a way of deciding whether or not any particular sentence in a formal system is valid or true. He solved a special case of the problem, pushed its general expression to the limit, and saw that limit clearly. A theorem he proved along the way showed that in apparently disordered systems, there must be some order. The branch of mathematics that studies the conditions under which order must occur is now named Ramsey Theory, with more discrete parts of it called Ramsey’s Theorem and Ramsey Numbers.
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