Tag Archives: bourbaki

If Bourbaki=WikiLeaks then Weil=Assange

In an interview with readers of the Guardian, December 3rd 2010, Julian Assange made a somewhat surprising comparison between WikiLeaks and Bourbaki, sorry, The Bourbaki (sic) :

“I originally tried hard for the organisation to have no face, because I wanted egos to play no part in our activities. This followed the tradition of the French anonymous pure mathematians, who wrote under the collective allonym, “The Bourbaki”. However this quickly led to tremendous distracting curiosity about who and random individuals claiming to represent us. In the end, someone must be responsible to the public and only a leadership that is willing to be publicly courageous can genuinely suggest that sources take risks for the greater good. In that process, I have become the lightening rod. I get undue attacks on every aspect of my life, but then I also get undue credit as some kind of balancing force.”

Analogies are never perfect, but perhaps Assange should have taken it a bit further and studied the history of the pre-war Bourbakistas in order to avoid problems that led to the eventual split-up.

Clearly, if Bourbaki=WikiLeaks, then Assange plays the role of Andre Weil. Both of them charismatic leaders, convincing the group around them that for the job at hand to succeed, it is best to work as a collective so that individual contributions cannot be traced.

At first this works well. Both groups make progress and gain importance, also to the outside world. But then, internal problems surface, questioning the commitment of ‘the leader’ to the original project.

In the case of the Bourbakis, Claude Chevalley and Rene de Possel dropped that bombshell at the second Chancay-meeting in 1937 with a 2 page pamphlet 7 theses de Chancay.

“Criticism on the state of affairs :

  • in general, a certain aging of Bourbaki, which manifests itself in a tendency to neglect internal lively opposition in favor of pursuing visible external succes ((failed) completion of versions, artificial agreement among members of the group).
  • in particular, often the working method appears to be that of suffocating any objections in official meetings (via interruptions, not listening, etc. etc.). This tendency didn’t exist at the Besse meeting, began to manifest itself at the Escorial-meeting and got even worse here at Chancay. Bourbaki-members don’t pay attention to discussions and the principle of unanimous decision-making is replaced in reality by majority rule.”

Sounds familiar? Perhaps stretching the analogy a bit one might say that Claude Chevalley’s and Rene de Possel’s role within Bourbaki is similar to that of respectively Birgitta Jónsdóttir and Daniel Domscheit-Berg within WikiLeaks.

This criticism will be neglected and at the following Bourbaki-meeting in Dieulefit (neither Chevalley nor de Possel were present) hardly any work gets done, largely due to the fact that Andre Weil is more concerned about his personal safety and escapes during the meeting for a couple of days to Switserland, fearing an imminent invasion.

After the Dieulefit-meeting, even though Bourbaki’s fame is spreading, work on the manuscripts is halted because all members are reserve-officers in the French army and have to prepare for war.

Except for Andre Weil, who’s touring the world with a clear “Bourbaki, c’est moi!” message, handing out Bourbaki name-cards or invitations to Betti Bourbaki’s wedding… That Andre and Eveline Weil are traveling as Mr. and Mrs. Bourbaki is perhaps best illustrated by the thank-you note, left on their journey through Finland.

If it were not for the fact that the other members had more pressing matters to deal with, Weil’s attitude would have resulted in more people dropping out of the group, or continuing the work under another name, a bit like what happens to WikiLeaks and OpenLeaks today.

What happened on the Bourbaki wedding day?

Early on in this series we deciphered part of the Bourbaki wedding invitation

The wedding was planned on “le 3 Cartembre, an VI” or, for non-Bourbakistas, June 3rd 1939. But, why did they choose that particular day?

Because the wedding-invitation-joke was concocted sometime between mid april and mid may 1939, the most probable explanation clearly is that they took a calendar and scheduled their fake wedding on a saturday not too far in the future.

Or, could it be that the invitation indeed contained a coded message pointing to an important event (at least as far as Bourbaki or the Weils were concerned) taking place in Paris on June 3rd 1939?

Unlikely? Well, what about this story:

André Malraux was a French writer and later statesman. He was noted especially for his novel La Condition Humaine (1933).

During the 1930s, Malraux was active in the anti-fascist Popular Front in France. At the beginning of the Spanish Civil War he joined the Republican forces in Spain, serving in and helping to organize the small Spanish Republican Air Force. The Republic government circulated photos of Malraux’s standing next to some Potez 540 bombers suggesting that France was on their side, at a time when France and the United Kingdom had declared official neutrality.

In 1938 he published L’Espoir, a novel influenced by his Spanish war experiences. In the same year, Malraux and Boris Peskine produced a movie based on the book, filmed in Spain (in Tarragon, Collbató and Montserrat) : sierra de Teruel (later called, L’Espoir)

This wikipedia-page claims that the movie was released June 13th, 1945. But this isn’t quite correct.

The first (private) viewing of the film took place … on saturday june 3rd, 1939.

In august 1939 there was another private viewing for the Spanish Government-in-Exile, and Malraux wanted the public release to take place in september. However, after the invasion by Hitler of Poland and considerable pressure of the French amassador to Madrid, Philippe Petain, the distribution of the movie was forbidden by the government of Edouard Daladier IV.
For this reason the public release had to be postponed until after the war.

But let us return to the first viewing on Bourbaki’s wedding day. We know that a lot of authors were present. There’s evidence that Simone de Beauvoir attended and quite likely so did Simone Weil, Andre’s sister.

In 1936, despite her professed pacifism, Simone Weil fought in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side. She identified herself as an anarchist and joined the Sébastien Faure Century, the French-speaking section of the anarchist militia.

According to her biography (p. 473) she was still in contact with Malraux and, at the time, tried in vain to convince him of the fact that the Stalin-regime was as oppressive as the fascist-regimes. So, it is quite likely she was invited to the viewing, or at least knew about it.

From Andre Weil’s auto-biography we know that letters (and even telegrams) were exchanged between him and his sister, when he was in England in the spring of 1939. So, it is quite likely that she told him about the Malraux-Sierra de Tenuel happening (see also the Escorial post).

According to the invitation the Bourbaki-wedding took place “en la Cohomologie Principale”. The private viewing of Malraux’ film took place in “Cinéma Le Paris” on the Champs Elysées.

Could it be that “Cohomologie Principale”=”Cinema Le Paris”?

Bourbaki and the miracle of silence

The last pre-war Bourbaki congress, held in september 1938 in Dieulefit, is surrounded by mystery. Compared to previous meetings, fewer documents are preserved in the Bourbaki archives and some sentences in the surviving notules have been made illegible. We will have to determine the exact location of the Dieulefit-meeting before we can understand why this had to be done. It’s Bourbaki’s own tiny contribution to ‘le miracle de silence’…

First, the few facts we know about this Bourbaki congress, mostly from Andre Weil‘s autobiography ‘The Apprenticeship of a Mathematician’.

The meeting was held in Dieulefit in the Drome-Provencale region, sometime in september 1938 prior to the Munich Agreement (more on this next time). We know that Elie Cartan did accept Bourbaki’s invitation to join them and there is this one famous photograph of the meeting. From left to right : Simone Weil (accompanying Andre), Charles Pison, Andre Weil (hidden), Jean Dieudonne (sitting), Claude Chabauty, Charles Ehresmann, and Jean Delsarte.

Failing further written documentation, ‘all’ we have to do in order to pinpoint the exact location of the meeting is to find a match between this photograph and some building in Dieulefit…

The crucial clue is provided by the couple of sentences, on the final page of the Bourbaki-archive document deldi_001 Engagements de Dieulefit, someone (Jean Delsarte?) has tried to make illegible (probably early on).



Blowing the picture up, it isn’t too hard to guess that the header should read ‘Décision du 22 septembre 1938′ and that the first sentence is ‘Le Bourbaki de 2e classe WEIL fera pour le 15 octobre’. The document is signed

Camp de Beauvallon, le 22.IX.38.
L’adjudant de jour
DIEUDONNE

Now we are getting somewhere. Beauvallon is the name of an hamlet of Dieulefit, situated approximately 2.5km to the east of the center.

Beauvallon is rather famous for its School, founded in 1929 by Marguerite Soubeyran and Catherine Krafft, which was the first ‘modern’ boarding school in France for both boys and girls having behavioral problems. From 1936 on the school’s director was Simone Monnier.

These three women were politically active and frequented several circles. Already in 1938 (at about the time of the Bourbaki congress) they knew the reality of the Nazi persecutions and planned to prepare their school to welcome, care for and protect refugees and Jewish children.

From 1936 on about 20 Spanish republican refugees found a home here and in the ‘pension’ next to the school. When the war started, about 1500 people were hidden from the German occupation in Dieulefit (having a total population of 3500) : Jewish children, intellectuals, artists, trade union leaders, etc. etc. many in the Ecole and the Pension.

Because of the towns solidarity with the refugees, none were betrayed to the Germans, Le miracle de silence à Dieulefit.
It earned the three Ecole-women the title of “Juste” after the war. More on this period can be read here.

But what does this have to do with Bourbaki? Well, we claim that the venue of the 1938 Bourbaki congress was the Ecole de Beauvallon and they probably used Le Pension for their lodgings.

We have photographic evidence comparing the Bourbaki picture with a picture taken in 1943 at the Ecole (the woman in the middle is Marguerite Soubeyran). Compare the distance between door and window, the division of the windows and the ivy on the wall.

Below two photographs of the entire school building : on the left, the school with ‘Le Pension’ next to it around 1938 (the ivy clad wall with the Bourbaki-door is to the right) and on the right, the present Ecole de Beauvallon (this site also contains a lot of historical material). The ivy has gone, but the main features of the building are still intact, only the shape of the small roof above the Bourbaki-door has changed.

During their stay, it is likely the Bourbakis became aware of the plans the school had would war break out. Probably, Jean Delsarte removed all explicit mention to the Ecole de Beauvallon from the archives upon their return. Bourbaki’s own small contribution to Dieulefit’s miracle of silence.

Who was ‘le P. Adique’?

Last year we managed to solve the first few riddles of the Bourbaki code, but several mysteries still remain. For example, who was the priest performing the Bourbaki-Petard wedding ceremony? The ‘faire part’ identifies him as ‘le P. Adique, de l’Ordre des Diophantiens’.

As with many of these Bourbaki-jokes, this riddle too has several layers. There is the first straightforward mathematical interpretation of the p-adic numbers $latex \hat{\mathbb{Z}}_p$ being used in the study of Diophantine problems.

For example, the local-global, or Hasse principle, asserting that an integral quadratic form has a solution if and only if there are solutions over all p-adic numbers. Helmut Hasse was a German number theorist, held in high esteem by the Bourbaki group.

After graduating from the ENS in 1929, Claude Chevalley spent some time at the University of Marburg, studying under Helmut Hasse. Hasse had come to Marburg when Kurt Hensel (who invented the p-adic numbers in 1902) retired in 1930.

Hasse picked up a question from E. Artin’s dissertation about the zeta function of an algebraic curve over a finite field and achieved the first breakthrough establishing the conjectured property for zeta functions of elliptic curves (genus one).

Extending this result to higher genus was the principal problem Andre Weil was working on at the time of the wedding-card-joke. In 1940 he would be able to settle the general case. What we now know as the Hasse-Weil theorem implies that the number N(p) of rational points of an elliptic curve over the finite field Z/pZ, where p is a prime, can differ from the mean value p+1 by at most twice the square root of p.

So, Helmut Hasse is a passable candidate for the first-level, mathematical, decoding of ‘le P. adique’.

However, there is often a deeper and more subtle reading of a Bourbaki-joke, intended to be understood only by the select inner circle of ‘normaliens’ (graduates of the Ecole Normale Superieure). Usually, this second-level interpretation requires knowledge of events or locations within the 5-th arrondissement of Paris, the large neighborhood of the ENS.

For an outsider (both non-Parisian and non-normalien) decoding this hidden message is substantially harder and requires a good deal of luck.

As it happens, I’m going through a ‘Weil-phase’ and just started reading the three main Weil-biographies : Andre Weil the Apprenticeship of a Mathematician, Chez les Weil : André et Simone by Sylvie Weil and La vie de Simone Weil by Simone Petrement.


[abp:3764326506] [abp:2283023696] [abp:2213599920]

From page 35 of ‘Chez les Weil’ : “Après la guerre, pas tout de suite mais en 1948, toute la famille avait fini par revenir à Paris, rue Auguste-Comte, en face des jardins du Luxembourg.” Sylvie talks about the Parisian apartment of her grandparents (father and mother of Andre and Simone) and I wanted to know its exact location.

More details are given on page 103 of ‘La vie de Simone Weil’. The apartment consists of the 6th and 7th floor of a building on the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève. The Weils bought it before it was even built and when they moved in, in may 1929, it was still unfinished. Compensating this, the apartment offered a splendid view of the Sacre-Coeur, the Eiffel-tower, la Sorbonne, Invalides, l’Arc de Triomphe, Pantheon, the roofs of the Louvre, le tout Paris quoi…

As to its location : “Juste au-dessous de l’appartement se trouvent l’Ecole des mines et les serres du Luxembourg, avec la belle maison ancienne où mourut Leconte de Lisle.” This and a bit of googling allows one to deduce that the Weils lived at 3, rue Auguste-Comte (the W on the map below).

Crossing the boulevard Saint-Michel, one enters the 5-th arrondissement via the … rue de l’Abbe de l’Epee…
We did deduce before that the priest might be an abbot (‘from the order of the Diophantines’) and l’Epee is just ‘le P.’ pronounced in French (cheating one egue).

Abbé Charles-Michel de l’Épée lived in the 18th century and has become known as the “Father of the Deaf” (compare this to Diophantus who is called “Father of Algebra”). Épée turned his attention toward charitable services for the poor, and he had a chance encounter with two young deaf sisters who communicated using a sign language. Épée decided to dedicate himself to the education and salvation of the deaf, and, in 1760, he founded a school which became in 1791 l’Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets à Paris. It was later renamed the Institut St. Jacques (compare Rue St. Jacques) and then renamed again to its present name: Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris located at 254, rue Saint-Jacques (the A in the map below) just one block away from the Schola Cantorum at 269, rue St. Jacques, where the Bourbaki-Petard wedding took place (the S in the map).

Completing the map with the location of the Ecole Normale (the E) I was baffled by the result. If the Weil apartment stands for West, the Ecole for East and the Schola for South, surely there must be an N (for N.Bourbaki?) representing North. Suggestions anyone?