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Secco, Gisele Dalva, Pereira, Luiz Carlos. Proofs Versus Experiments: Wittgensteinian Themes Surrounding the Four-Color Theorem
2017, in How Colours Matter to Philosophy, Marcos Silva (ed.). Springer, Cham.
Added by: Fenner Stanley Tanswell
The Four-Colour Theorem (4CT) proof, presented to the mathematical community in a pair of papers by Appel and Haken in the late 1970's, provoked a series of philosophical debates. Many conceptual points of these disputes still require some elucidation. After a brief presentation of the main ideas of Appel and Haken’s procedure for the proof and a reconstruction of Thomas Tymoczko’s argument for the novelty of 4CT’s proof, we shall formulate some questions regarding the connections between the points raised by Tymoczko and some Wittgensteinian topics in the philosophy of mathematics such as the importance of the surveyability as a criterion for distinguishing mathematical proofs from empirical experiments. Our aim is to show that the “characteristic Wittgensteinian invention” (Mühlhölzer 2006) – the strong distinction between proofs and experiments – can shed some light in the conceptual confusions surrounding the Four-Colour Theorem.

Comment (from this Blueprint): Secco and Pereira discuss the famous proof of the Four Colour Theorem, which involved the essential use of a computer to check a huge number of combinations. They look at whether this constitutes a real proof or whether it is more akin to a mathematical experiment, a distinction that they draw from Wittgenstein.

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