How is mathematics made? What sort of brain is it that can compose the propositions and systems of mathematics? How do the mental processes of the geometer or algebraist compare with those of the musician, the poet, the painter, the chess player? In mathematical creation which are the key elements? Intuition? An exquisite sense of space and time? The precision of a calculating machine? A powerful memory? Formidable skill in following complex logical sequences? A supreme capacity for concentration?
The essay below, delivered in the first years of this century as a lecture before the Psychological Society in Paris, is the most celebrated of the attempts to describe what goes on in the mathematician's brain. Its author, Henri Poincaré, cousin of Raymond, the politician, was peculiarly fitted to undertake the task. One of the foremost mathematicians of all time, unrivaled as an analyst and mathematical physicist, Poincaré was known also as a brilliantly lucid expositor of the philosophy