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Jules Henri Poincaré (29 April 1854 – 17 July 1912) was a French mathematician and theoretical physicist, and a philosopher of science. Poincaré is often described as a polymath, and in mathematics as The Last Universalist, since he excelled in all fields of the discipline as it existed during his lifetime.

As a mathematician and physicist, he made many original fundamental contributions to pure and applied mathematics, mathematical physics, and celestial mechanics. He was responsible for formulating the Poincaré conjecture, one of the most famous problems in mathematics. In his research on the three-body problem, Poincaré became the first person to discover a chaotic deterministic system which laid the foundations of modern chaos theory. He is considered to be one of the founders of the field of topology.

Poincaré introduced the modern principle of relativity and was the first to present the Lorentz transformations in their modern symmetrical form. Poincaré discovered the remaining relativistic velocity transformations and recorded them in a letter to Lorentz in 1905. Thus he obtained perfect invariance of all of Maxwell's equations, an important step in the formulation of the theory of special relativity.

The Poincaré group used in physics and mathematics was named after him.

In 1862 Henri entered the Lycée in Nancy (now renamed the Lycée Henri Poincaré in his honour, along with the University of Nancy). He spent eleven years at the Lycée and during this time he proved to be one of the top students in every topic he studied. He excelled in written composition. His mathematics teacher described him as a "monster of mathematics" and he won first prizes in the concours général, a competition between the top pupils from all the Lycées across France. (His poorest subjects were music and physical education, where he was described as "average at best" (O'Connor et al., 2002). However, poor eyesight and a tendency towards absentmindedness may explain these difficulties (Carl, 1968). He graduated from the Lycée in 1871 with a Bachelor's degree in letters and sciences.

During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 he served alongside his father in the Ambulance Corps.

Poincaré entered the École Polytechnique in 1873. There he studied mathematics as a student of Charles Hermite, continuing to excel and publishing his first paper (Démonstration nouvelle des propriétés de l'indicatrice d'une surface) in 1874. He graduated in 1875 or 1876. He went on to study at the École des Mines, continuing to study mathematics in addition to the mining engineering syllabus and received the degree of ordinary engineer in March 1879.

As a graduate of the École des Mines he joined the Corps des Mines as an inspector for the Vesoul region in northeast France. He was on the scene of a mining disaster at Magny in August 1879 in which 18 miners died. He carried out the official investigation into the accident in a characteristically thorough and humane way.

At the same time, Poincaré was preparing for his doctorate in sciences in mathematics under the supervision of Charles Hermite. His doctoral thesis was in the field of differential equations.It was named Sur les propriétés des fonctions définies par les équations différences. Poincaré devised a new way of studying the properties of these equations. He not only faced the question of determining the integral of such equations, but also was the first person to study their general geometric properties. He realised that they could be used to model the behaviour of multiple bodies in free motion within the solar system. Poincaré graduated from the University of Paris in 1879.

Beginning in 1881 and for the rest of his career, he taught at the University of Paris (the Sorbonne). He was initially appointed as the maître de conférences d'analyse (associate professor of analysis) (Sageret, 1911). Eventually, he held the chairs of Physical and Experimental Mechanics, Mathematical Physics and Theory of Probability, and Celestial Mechanics and Astronomy.

Also in that same year, Poincaré married Miss Poulain d'Andecy. Together they had four children: Jeanne (born 1887), Yvonne (born 1889), Henriette (born 1891), and Léon (born 1893).

In 1887, at the young age of 32, Poincaré was elected to the French Academy of Sciences. He became its president in 1906, and was elected to the Académie française in 1909.

In 1887 he won Oscar II, King of Sweden's mathematical competition for a resolution of the three-body problem concerning the free motion of multiple orbiting bodies. (See #The three-body problem section below)

In 1893 Poincaré joined the French Bureau des Longitudes, which engaged him in the synchronisation of time around the world. In 1897 Poincaré backed an unsuccessful proposal for the decimalisation of circular measure, and hence time and longitude (see Galison 2003). It was this post which led him to consider the question of establishing international time zones and the synchronisation of time between bodies in relative motion. (See #Work on Relativity section below)

In 1899, and again more successfully in 1904, he intervened in the trials of Alfred Dreyfus. He attacked the spurious scientific claims of some of the evidence brought against Dreyfus, who was a Jewish officer in the French army charged with treason by anti-Semitic colleagues.

In 1912 Poincaré underwent surgery for a prostate problem and subsequently died from an embolism on 17 July 1912, in Paris. He was 58 years of age. He is buried in the Poincaré family vault in the Cemetery of Montparnasse, Paris.

The French Minister of Education, Claude Allegre, has recently (2004) proposed that Poincaré be reburied in the Panthéon in Paris, which is reserved for French citizens only of the highest honour.

He was also a populariser of mathematics and physics and wrote several books for the lay public.

Among the specific topics he contributed to are the following:

- algebraic topology
- the theory of analytic functions of several complex variables
- the theory of abelian functions
- algebraic geometry
- Poincaré was responsible for formulating one of the most famous problems in mathematics. Known as the Poincaré conjecture, it is a problem in topology.
- Poincaré recurrence theorem
- Hyperbolic geometry
- number theory
- the three-body problem
- the theory of diophantine equations
- the theory of electromagnetism
- the special theory of relativity
- In an 1894 paper, he introduced the concept of the fundamental group.
- In the field of differential equations Poincaré has given many results that are critical for the qualitative theory of differential equations, for example the Poincaré sphere and the Poincaré map.
- Poincaré on "everybody's belief" in the Normal Law of Errors (see normal distribution for an account of that "law")
- Published an influential paper providing a novel mathematical argument in support of quantum mechanics.

Given a system of arbitrarily many mass points that attract each according to Newton's law, under the assumption that no two points ever collide, try to find a representation of the coordinates of each point as a series in a variable that is some known function of time and for all of whose values the series converges uniformly.

In case the problem could not be solved, any other important contribution to classical mechanics would then be considered to be prizeworthy. The prize was finally awarded to Poincaré, even though he did not solve the original problem. One of the judges, the distinguished Karl Weierstrass, said, "This work cannot indeed be considered as furnishing the complete solution of the question proposed, but that it is nevertheless of such importance that its publication will inaugurate a new era in the history of celestial mechanics." (The first version of his contribution even contained a serious error; for details see the article by Diacu). The version finally printed contained many important ideas which lead to the theory of chaos. The problem as stated originally was finally solved by Karl F. Sundman for n = 3 in 1912 and was generalised to the case of n > 3 bodies by Qiudong Wang in the 1990s.

{{cquote|1=The essential point, established by Lorentz, is that the equations of the electromagnetic field are not altered by a certain transformation (which I will call by the name of Lorentz) of the form:

- $x^prime\; =\; kellleft(x\; +\; varepsilon\; tright),~$$t^prime\; =\; kellleft(t\; +\; varepsilon\; xright),~$$y^prime\; =\; ell\; y,~$ $z^prime\; =\; ell\; z,~$$k\; =\; 1/sqrt\{1-varepsilon^2\}.$}}

and showed that the arbitrary function $ellleft(varepsilonright)$ must be unity for all $varepsilon$ (Lorentz had set $ell\; =\; 1$ by a different argument) to make the transformations form a group. In an enlarged version of the paper that appeared in 1906 Poincaré pointed out that the combination $x^2+\; y^2+\; z^2-\; c^2t^2$ is invariant. He noted Lorentz transformation is merely a rotation in four-dimensional space about the origin by introducing $ctsqrt\{-1\}$ as a fourth imaginary coordinate, and he used an early form of four-vectors. Poincaré’s attempt of a four-dimensional reformulation of the new mechanics was rejected by himself in 1907, because in his opinion the translation of physics into the language of four-dimensional metry would entail too much effort for limited profit. So it was Hermann Minkowski, who worked out the consequences of this notion in 1907.

However, Poincaré's resolution led to a paradox when changing frames: if a Hertzian oscillator radiates in a certain direction, it will suffer a recoil from the inertia of the fictitious fluid. Poincaré performed a Lorentz boost (to order v/c) to the frame of the moving source. He noted that energy conservation holds in both frames, but that the law of conservation of momentum is violated. This would allow perpetual motion, a notion which he abhorred. The laws of nature would have to be different in the frames of reference, and the relativity principle would not hold. Therefore he argued that also in this case there has to be another compensating mechanism in the ether.

Poincaré himself came back to this topic in his St. Louis lecture (1904). This time (and later also in 1908) he rejected the possibility that energy carries mass and also the possibility, that motions in the ether can compensate the above mentioned problems:

The apparatus will recoil as if it were a cannon and the projected energy a ball, and that contradicts the principle of Newton, since our present projectile has no mass; it is not matter, it is energy. [..] Shall we say that the space which separates the oscillator from the receiver and which the disturbance must traverse in passing from one to the other, is not empty, but is filled not only with ether, but with air, or even in inter-planetary space with some subtile, yet ponderable fluid; that this matter receives the shock, as does the receiver, at the moment the energy reaches it, and recoils, when the disturbance leaves it? That would save Newton's principle, but it is not true. If the energy during its propagation remained always attached to some material substratum, this matter would carry the light along with it and Fizeau has shown, at least for the air, that there is nothing of the kind. Michelson and Morley have since confirmed this. We might also suppose that the motions of matter proper were exactly compensated by those of the ether; but that would lead us to the same considerations as those made a moment ago. The principle, if thus interpreted, could explain anything, since whatever the visible motions we could imagine hypothetical motions to compensate them. But if it can explain anything, it will allow us to foretell nothing; it will not allow us to choose between the various possible hypotheses, since it explains everything in advance. It therefore becomes useless.

He also discussed two other unexplained effects: (1) non-conservation of mass implied by Lorentz's variable mass $gamma\; m$, Abraham's theory of variable mass and Kaufmann's experiments on the mass of fast moving electrons and (2) the non-conservation of energy in the radium experiments of Madame Curie.

It was Albert Einstein's concept of mass–energy equivalence (1905) that a body losing energy as radiation or heat was losing mass of amount $m\; =\; E/c^2$ that resolved Poincare's paradox, without using any compensating mechanism within the ether. The Hertzian oscillator loses mass in the emission process, and momentum is conserved in any frame. However, concerning Poincaré's solution of the Center of Gravity problem, Einstein noted that Poincaré's formulation and his own from 1906 were mathematically equivalent.

Poincaré consistently credited Lorentz's achievements, ranking his own contributions as minor. Thus, he wrote:

Lorentz has tried to modify his hypothesis so as to make it in accord with the postulate of complete impossibility of measuring absolute motion. He has succeeded in doing so in his article [Lorentz 1904]. The importance of the problem has made me take up the question again; the results that I have obtained agree on all important points with those of Lorentz; I have been led only to modify or complete them on some points of detail." [emphasis added].

In an address in 1909 on "The New Mechanics", Poincaré discussed the demolition of Newton's mechanics brought about by Max Abraham and Lorentz, without mentioning Einstein. In one of his last essays entitled "The Quantum Theory" (1913), when referring to the Solvay Conference, Poincaré again described special relativity as the "mechanics of Lorentz:

... at every moment [the twenty physicists from different countries] could be heard talking of the new mechanics which they contrasted with the old mechanics. Now what was the old mechanics? Was it that of Newton, the one which still reigned uncontested at the close of the nineteenth century? No, it was the mechanics of Lorentz, the one dealing with the principle of relativity; the one which, hardly five years ago, seemed to be the height of boldness ... the mechanics of Lorentz endures ... no body in motion will ever be able to exceed the speed of light ... the mass of a body is not constant ... no experiment will ever be able [to detect] motion either in relation to absolute space or even in relation to the aether. [emphasis added]

On the other hand, in a memoir written as a tribute after Poincaré's death, Lorentz readily admitted the mistake he had made and credited Poincaré's achievements:

{{cquote|For certain of the physical magnitudes which enter in the formulae I have not indicated the transformation which suits best. This has been done by Poincaré, and later by Einstein and Minkowski. My formulae were encumbered by certain terms which should have been made to disappear. [...] I have not established the principle of relativity as rigorously and universally true. Poincaré, on the other hand, has obtained a perfect invariance of the electro-magnetic equations, and he has formulated 'the postulate of relativity', terms which he was the first to employ. [...] Poincaré remarks [..] that if one considers $x,\; y,\; z,$ and $t\; sqrt\{-1\}$ as the coordinates of a space of four dimensions, the transformations of relativity are reduced to rotations in that space. [emphasis added]}}

In summary, Poincaré regarded the mechanics as developed by Lorentz in order to obey the principle of relativity as the essence of the theory, while Lorentz stressed that perfect invariance was first obtained by Poincaré. The modern view is inclined to say that the group property and the invariance are the essential points.

The mathematician Darboux claimed he was un intuitif (intuitive), arguing that this is demonstrated by the fact that he worked so often by visual representation. He did not care about being rigorous and disliked logic. He believed that logic was not a way to invent but a way to structure ideas and that logic limits ideas.

- He worked during the same times each day in short periods of time. He undertook mathematical research for four hours a day, between 10 a.m. and noon then again from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.. He would read articles in journals later in the evening.
- His normal work habit was to solve a problem completely in his head, then commit the completed problem to paper.
- He was ambidextrous and nearsighted.
- His ability to visualise what he heard proved particularly useful when he attended lectures, since his eyesight was so poor that he could not see properly what the lecturer wrote on the blackboard.

These abilities were offset to some extent by his shortcomings:

- He was physically clumsy and artistically inept.
- He was always in a rush and disliked going back for changes or corrections.
- He never spent a long time on a problem since he believed that the subconscious would continue working on the problem while he consciously worked on another problem.

In addition, Toulouse stated that most mathematicians worked from principles already established while Poincaré started from basic principles each time (O'Connor et al., 2002).

His method of thinking is well summarised as:

- "Habitué à négliger les détails et à ne regarder que les cimes, il passait de l'une à l'autre avec une promptitude surprenante et les faits qu'il découvrait se groupant d'eux-mêmes autour de leur centre étaient instantanément et automatiquement classés dans sa mémoire."("Accustomed to neglecting details and to looking only at mountain tops, he went from one peak to another with surprising rapidity, and the facts he discovered, clustering around their center, were instantly and automatically pigeonholed in his memory.") Belliver (1956)

- Oscar II, King of Sweden's mathematical competition (1887)
- American Philosophical Society 1899
- Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society of London (1900)
- Bolyai prize in 1905
- Matteucci Medal 1905
- French Academy of Sciences 1906
- Académie Française 1909
- Bruce Medal (1911)

Named after him

- Poincaré Prize (Mathematical Physics International Prize)
- Annales Henri Poincaré (Scientific Journal)
- Poincaré Seminar (nicknamed "Bourbaphy")
- Poincaré crater (on the Moon)
- Asteroid 2021 Poincaré

- For a superficial observer, scientific truth is beyond the possibility of doubt; the logic of science is infallible, and if the scientists are sometimes mistaken, this is only from their mistaking its rule.

Poincaré believed that arithmetic is a synthetic science. He argued that Peano's axioms cannot be proven non-circularly with the principle of induction (Murzi, 1998), therefore concluding that arithmetic is a priori synthetic and not analytic. Poincaré then went on to say that mathematics cannot be deduced from logic since it is not analytic. His views were similar to those of Immanuel Kant (Kolak, 2001, Folina 1992). He strongly opposed Cantorian set theory, objecting to its use of impredicative definitions.

However Poincaré did not share Kantian views in all branches of philosophy and mathematics. For example, in geometry, Poincaré believed that the structure of non-Euclidean space can be known analytically. Poincaré held that convention plays an important role in physics. His view (and some later, more extreme versions of it) came to be known as "conventionalism". Poincaré believed that Newton's first law was not empirical but is a conventional framework assumption for mechanics. He also believed that the geometry of physical space is conventional. He considered examples in which either the geometry of the physical fields or gradients of temperature can be changed, either describing a space as non-Euclidean measured by rigid rulers, or as a Euclidean space where the rulers are expanded or shrunk by a variable heat distribution. However, Poincaré thought that we were so accustomed to Euclidean geometry that we would prefer to change the physical laws to save Euclidean geometry rather than shift to a non-Euclidean physical geometry.

- 1902.
- 1905.
- 1908.
- 1913.

- 1895. Analysis situs. The first systematic study of topology.

- 1892-99. New Methods of Celestial Mechanics, 3 vols. English trans., 1967. ISBN 1563961172.
- 1905-10. Lessons of Celestial Mechanics.

On the philosophy of mathematics:

- Ewald, William B., ed., 1996. From Kant to Hilbert: A Source Book in the Foundations of Mathematics, 2 vols. Oxford Univ. Press. Contains the following works by Poincaré:
- 1894, "On the nature of mathematical reasoning," 972-81.
- 1898, "On the foundations of geometry," 982-1011.
- 1900, "Intuition and Logic in mathematics," 1012-20.
- 1905-06, "Mathematics and Logic, I-III," 1021-70.
- 1910, "On transfinite numbers," 1071-74.

- Bell, Eric Temple, 1986. Men of Mathematics (reissue edition). Touchstone Books. ISBN 0671628186.
- Belliver, André, 1956. Henri Poincaré ou la vocation souveraine. Paris: Gallimard.
- Bernstein, Peter L, 1996. "Against the Gods: A Remarkable Story of Risk". (p. 199-200). John Wiley & Sons.
- Boyer, B. Carl, 1968. A History of Mathematics: Henri Poincaré, John Wiley & Sons.
- Grattan-Guinness, Ivor, 2000. The Search for Mathematical Roots 1870-1940. Princeton Uni. Press.
- Folina, Janet, 1992. Poincare and the Philosophy of Mathematics. Macmillan, New York.
- Gray, Jeremy, 1986. Linear differential equations and group theory from Riemann to Poincaré, Birkhauser
- Kolak, Daniel, 2001. Lovers of Wisdom, 2nd ed. Wadsworth.
- Murzi, 1998. "Henri Poincaré"
- O'Connor, J. John, and Robertson, F. Edmund, 2002, "Jules Henri Poincaré" University of St. Andrews, Scotland.
- Peterson, Ivars, 1995. Newton's Clock: Chaos in the Solar System (reissue edition). W H Freeman & Co. ISBN 0716727242.
- Sageret, Jules, 1911. Henri Poincaré. Paris: Mercure de France.
- Toulouse, E.,1910. Henri Poincaré. - (Source biography in French)

- Non-mainstream

- Online English translations of whole works by Poincaré:
- Works by Henri Poincaré at Project Gutenberg
- Free audio download of Poincaré's Science and Hypothesis, from LibriVox.
- Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: " Henri Poincare"--by Mauro Murzi.
- A timeline of Poincaré's life University of Nancy (in French).
- Bruce Medal page
- Collins, Graham P., " Henri Poincaré, His Conjecture, Copacabana and Higher Dimensions," Scientific American, 9 June 2004.
- BBC In Our Time, " Discussion of the Poincaré conjecture," 2 November 2006, hosted by Melvynn Bragg. See Internet Archive
- Poincare Contemplates Copernicus at MathPages

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Last updated on Saturday October 04, 2008 at 13:49:51 PDT (GMT -0700)

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