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Is it wise to bet on mathematical progress?

Although I, for one, would be reluctant to wager real money on whether a unified theory of physics will be discovered before the decade is out, or on whether the mind-body problem will be dispatched by the end of the century, others are more daring. A member of the Lloyd’s of London insurance syndicate, for example, has recently bet that a certain mathematical conjecture will not be proved before 15th March 2002.

The proposition-Goldbach’s conjecture-is one of the oldest unsolved problems in mathematics. It was first stated in a letter which Christian Goldbach (1690-1764)-a Prussian maths enthusiast who served as…

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