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Bourbaki and Dema, two remarks

While this blog is still online, I might as well correct, and add to, previous posts.

Later this week new Twenty One Pilots material is expected, so this might be a good time to add some remarks to a series of posts I ran last summer, trying to find a connection between Dema-lore and the actual history of the Bourbaki group. Here are links to these posts:

In the post “9 Bourbaki founding members, really?” I questioned Wikipedia’s assertion that there were exactly nine founding members of Nicolas Bourbaki:

I still stand by the arguments given in that post, but my opinion on this is completely irrelevant. What matters is who the Bourbaki-gang themself deemed worthy to attach their names to their first publication ‘Theorie des Ensembles’ (1939).

But wait, wasn’t the whole point of choosing the name Nicolas Bourbaki for their collective that the actual authors of the books should remain anonymous?

Right, but then I found this strange document in the Bourbaki Archives : awms_001, a preliminary version of the first two chapters of ‘Theorie des Ensembles’ written by Andre Weil and annotated by Rene de Possel. Here’s the title page:

Next to N. Bourbaki we see nine capital letters: M.D.D.D.E.C.C.C.W corresponding to nine AW-approved founding members of Bourbaki: Mandelbrojt, Delsarte, De Possel, Dieudonne, Ehresmann, Chevalley, Coulomb, Cartan and Weil!

What may freak out the Clique is the similarity between the diagram to the left of the title, and the canonical depiction of the nine Bishops of Dema (at the center of the map of Dema) or the cover of the Blurryface album:




In the Photoshop mysteries post I explained why Mandelbrojt and Weil might have been drawn in opposition to each other, but I am unaware of a similar conflict between either of the three C’s (Cartan, Coulomb and Chevalley) and the three D’s (Delsarte, De Possel and Dieudonne).

So, I’ll have to leave the identification of the nine Bourbaki founding members with the nine Dema Bishops as a riddle for another post.

The second remark concerns the post Where’s Bourbaki’s Dema?.

In that post I briefly suggested that DEMA might stand for DEutscher MAthematiker (German Mathematicians), and hinted at the group of people around David Hilbert, Emil Artin and Emmy Noether, but discarded this as “one can hardly argue that there was a self-destructive attitude (like Vialism) present among that group, quite the opposite”.

At the time, I didn’t know about Deutsche Mathematik, a mathematics journal founded in 1936 by Ludwig Bieberbach and Theodor Vahlen.



Deutsche Mathematik is also the name of a movement closely associated with the journal whose aim was to promote “German mathematics” and eliminate “Jewish influence” in mathematics. More about Deutsche Mathematik can be found on this page, where these eight mathematicians are mentioned in connection with it:

Perhaps one can add to this list:

Whether DEutsche MAthematik stands for DEMA, and which of these German mathematicians were its nine bishops might be the topic of another post. First I’ll have to read through Sanford Segal’s Mathematicians under the Nazis.

Added February 29th:

The long awaited new song has now surfaced:

I’ve only watched it once, but couldn’t miss the line “I fly by the dangerous bend symbol“.

Didn’t we all fly by them in our first readings of Bourbaki…

(Fortunately the clique already spotted that reference).

No intention to freak out clikkies any further, but in the aforementioned Weil draft of ‘Theorie des Ensembles’ they still used this precursor to the dangerous bend symbol

Skeletons anyone?

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TØP PhotoShop mysteries

Suppose you’re writing a book, and for the duration of that project you keep a certain photo as your desktop-background. I guess we might assume that picture to be inspirational for your writing process.

If you PhotoShopped it to add specific elements, might we assume these extra bits to play a crucial role in your story?

Now, let’s turn to Twenty One Pilots and the creation process of their album Trench, released on October 5, 2018

We know from this tweet (from August 19th, 2018) that Tyler Joseph’s desktop-background picture was a photoshopped version of the classic Bourbaki-1938 photo on the left below, given it Trench-yellow, and added a bearded man in the doorway (photo on the right)




And we know from this interview (from September 5th, 2018) that, apart from the bearded man, he also replaced in the lower left corner the empty chair by a sitting person (lower photo).

The original photo features on the Wikipedia page on Nicolas Bourbaki, and as Tyler Joseph has revealed that Blurryface‘s real name is Nicolas Bourbaki (for whatever reason), and that he appears in the lyrics of Morph on Trench, this may make some sense.

But, of the seven people in the picture only three were founding members of Bourbaki: Weil, Diedonne and Delsarte. Ehresmann entered later, replacing Jean Leray, and Pison and Chabauty were only guinea pigs at that moment (they later entered Bourbaki, Chabauty briefly and Pison until 1950), and finally, Simonne Weil never was a member.

There’s another strange thing about the original picture. All of them, but Andre and Simone Weil, look straight into the camera, the Weil’s seem to be more focussed on something happening to the right.

Now, TØP has something with the number 9. There are nine circles on the cover of Blurryface (each representing one of a person’s insecurities, it seems), there are nine towers in the City of Dema, nine Bishops, etc.



So, from their perspective it makes sense to Photoshop two extra people in, and looking at the original there are two obvious places to place them: in the empty doorway, and on the empty chair.

But, who are they, and what is their significance?

1. The bearded man in the doorway

As far as I know, nobody knows who he is. From a Bourbaki point of view it can only be one person: Elie Cartan.

We know he was present at the 1938 Bourbaki Dieulefit/Beauvallon meeting, and that he was kind of a father figure to Bourbaki. Among older French mathematicians he was one of few (perhaps the only one) respected by all of Bourbaki.

But, bearded man is definitely not Elie Cartan…

If bearded man exists and has a Wikipedia page, the photo should be on that page. So, if you find him, please leave a comment.

Previous in this series I made a conjecture about him, but I’m not at all sure.

2. Why, of all people, Szolem Mandelbrojt?

We know from this Twentyonepilots subReddit post that the man sitting on the previously empty chair in none other than Bourbaki founding member Szolem Mandelbrojt, shopped in from this other iconic early Bourbaki-photo from the 1937 Chancay-meeting.

Let me tell you why this surprises me.

Szolem Mandelbrojt was atypical among the first Bourbaki-gang in many ways: he was the only one who didn’t graduate from the ENS, he was a bit older than the rest, he was the only one who was a full Professor (at Clermont-Ferrand) whereas the others were ‘maitre de conference’, he was the only one who didn’t contribute actively in the Julia seminar (the proto-Bourbaki seminar) nor much to the Bourbaki-congresses either for that matter, etc. etc.

Most of all, I don’t think he would feel particularly welcome at the 1938 congress. Here’s why.



(Jacques Hadamard (left), and Henri Lebesgue (right))

From Andre Weil’s autobiography (page 120):

Hadamard’s retirement left his position open. I thought myself not unworthy of succeeding him; my friends, especially Cartan and Delsarte, encouraged me to a candidate. It seemed to me that Lebesgue, who was the only mathematician left at the College de France, did not find my candidacy out of place. He even let me know that it was time to begin my ‘campaign visits’.

But the Bourbaki-campaign against a hierarchy of scientific prizes instituted by Jean Perrin (the so called ‘war of the medals’) interfered with his personal campaign. (Perhaps more important was that Mandelbrojt did his Ph.D. under Hadamard…)

Again from Weil’s autobiography (page 121):

Finally Lebesque put an end to my visits by telling me that he had decided on Mandelbrojt. It seemed to me that my friends were more disappointed than I at this outcome.

In the spring of 1938, Mandelbrojt succeeded Hadamard at the College de France.

There’s photographic evidence that Mandelbrojt was present at the 1935 Besse-congress and clearly at the 1937-Chancay meeting, but I don’t know that he was even present at Chancay-1936.

The only picture I know of that meeting is the one below. Standing on bench: Chevalley’s nephews, seated Andre Weil and Chevalley’s mother; standing, left to right: Ninette Ehresmann, Rene de Possel, Claude Chavalley, Jacqueline Chavalley, Mirles, Jean Delsarte and Charles Ehresmann.

Of all possible people, Szolem Mandelbrojt would be the miscast at the 1938-meeting. So, why did they shop him in?

– convenience: they had an empty chair in the original picture, another Bourbaki-photo with a guy sitting on such a chair, so why not shop him in?

– mistaken identity: in the subReddit post the sitting guy was mistakenly identified as Claude Chevalley. Now, there is a lot to say about wishing to add Chevalley to the original. He is by far the most likeable of all Bourbakis, so if these nine were ever supposed to be the nine Bishops of Dema, he most certainly would be Keons. But, Chevalley was already in the US at that time, and was advised by the French consul to remain there in view of the situation in Europe. As a result, Chevalley could not obtain a French professorship before the early 50ties.

– a deep hidden clue: remember all that nonsense about Josh Dun’s ‘alma mater’ being that Ukrainian building where Nico and the niners was shot? Well, Szolem Mandelbrojt’s alma mater was the University of Kharkiv in Ukraine. See this post for more details.

3. Is it all about Simone Weil?

If you super-impose the two photographs, pinning Mandelbrojt in both, the left border of the original 1938-picture is an almost perfect mirror for both appearances of Simone Weil. Can she be more important in all of this than we think?

Previous in the Bourbaki&TØP series:

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Dema2Trench, AND REpeat

There’s this band Twenty One Pilots and they’ve woven a complicated story around some of their albums, notably Blurryface, Trench, and Scaled and Icy.

Since Trench, an important component of that story is the Bourbaki group, so I’m just curious whether the few things I know about them can help to clarify parts in the TØP- storyline.

Pretty pointless, I know, as no artistic project will follow blindly historical facts. But hey, as long as I discover new things I’ll keep going.

The story’s about a City of Dema, ruled by nine Bishops installing a terror regime called Vialism, and a land outside the city walls, called Trench, to which citizens would like to escape.

Think of Dema as an extremely toxic environment from which you need to escape to a safe place, let’s call it Trench.

Sadly, too often survivors from abusive settings later on create their own toxic environment, abusive to others.

So, Dema-escapees to Trench should always be wary of the danger of creating a new Dema for others.

It is very hard to break these Dema2Trench cycles of violence. That’s probably why the map of the City of Dema is circular.

Let’s start with these two photos not (yet) in the Dema-lore:



Both pictures are of the French mathematician Gaston Julia.

Julia graduated from the ENS in 1914, so was among the worst victims of the military regime Lavisse installed at the ENS. He was mobilised but hadn’t yet completed his second year of military training. That was shortened to just 5 months, after which we has send as a second lieutenant to the war.

In January 1915 he was seriously wounded in his face, had to undergo a series of operations and for the rest of his life he resigned himself to wearing a leather strap around the area where his nose had been.

He ran a weekly seminar from 1933 till 1939, the Seminaire Julia, to which the Bourbaki core members contributed a vast number of lectures.

Until 1937-38 (so just before the Dieulefit Bourbaki congress) the Bourbakis felt happy citizens of Julia’s Seminar/Dema. But then they discovered his political agenda and were expelled from it, or escaped from it depending on the version.

Jean Leray convinced Julia that it was a terrible mistake to let his seminar run by Bourbaki, and that things would go much better if he ran it. Julia expelled Bourbaki from the seminar, changed its name to ‘ Cercle mathématique de l’École normale supérieure’ and moved the venue from the IHP to the ENS. The attendants of this seminar were younger and less international that in the preceding years, hence more malleable to his political ideas.

Another reason for the break-up between Bourbaki and Julia was that they reproached him of attending in June 1937 the festivities of the bicentennial of the University of Gottingen, which were seen as pure propaganda for the Nazi-regime.

During WW2, Julia collaborated with the occupying Nazi-regime in that he tried to find French mathematicians to contribute to the Zentralblatt. After the war he was briefly suspended for this.

Much more on the Julia seminar and the break-up with Bourbaki can be read in the thesis by Gatien Ricotier ‘Projets collectifs et personnels autour de Bourbaki dans les années 1930 à 1950’, and Michele Audin’s book on the Julia Seminar.

Let us compare Julia’s photographs to these two in Dema-lore:



Is it a coincidence that Clancy in Trench has a scar on his nose? Is it a coincidence that the black paint on some of the Bishop’s faces looks a lot like Julia’s mask?

Can it be that victims of one Dema-era become Bishops in a next era?

This repetitiveness of Dema-environments also indicates the importance of Bishop Andre. Recall that all the Bishops’ names (except for Nico) come from concatenations of word-parts in the lyrics of the songs on the Blurryface album.

ANDRE comes from ‘..AND REpeat’ in Fairly local:

Tomorrow I’ll keep a beat
And repeat yesterday’s dance

In view of this, let’s have another look at the two Bourbaki-related photographs that appeared in the run up to the Trench-album:



On the left is the photo of the Dieulefit/Beauvallon 1938 meeting, which is on the Bourbaki Wikipedia page, and was on the desktop of Tyler Joseph.

On the right a photo of Andre Weil together with a girl, according to Wikipedia the picture dates from 1956. I’m pretty certain it was taken in the summer of 1957, and that the girl is Mireille Cartan, the second youngest daughter of Henri Cartan. Not that any of this matters, TØP-wise. A clipping of the girl was among the material originally posted at the dmaorg.info site.

In 1938, Andre Weil was a victim of Lavisse’s Dema. His year was the last one getting a military training to become reserve officers in the French infantry/artillery (as were Cartan, Dieudonne and Delsarte).

When France would mobilise they were forced to return to Dema (military service) and lead their bataljons as second lieutenants into war. All of them, except for Weil, did this.
Weil escaped to Trench (Finland), and was taken back to Dema, and imprisonment.

In 1957, Bourbaki dominated much of French mathematical life, and certainly its influence in Paris was suffocating for aspiring math-students. A good read on this is Jacques Roubaud’s Mathematique.

Bourbaki has turned French mathematics (and beyond) into its own Dema, and Andre Weil certainly was one of the more important Bishops of it.

Previous in the Bourbaki&TØP series:

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Weil photos used in Dema-lore

On April 20th of 2018, twenty one pilots updated their store page to include a video with a hidden message at the end of it.

and with a bit of sleuthing it led to a page on the dmaorg.info site containing:



This was immediately identified as part of the photo on the right, which is on the French Wikipedia page for Andre Weil.

The photo is clipped in such a way one cannot be certain whether the child is a boy or girl, so a logical explanation is that this is supposed to be the nine year old Clancy, shielding his eyes from the violence (vialism) he just discovered in Dema.

The full picture suggests that Clancy’s struggles might mirror some in Andre Weil’s life.

Andre Weil was born May 6th, 1906, so ‘in his ninth year’ World War 1 breaks out in 1914.

Last time we’ve seen that Bourbaki’s Dema = Ecole Normal Superieure in Paris during WW1, Vialism = militant patriotism sending ENS-graduates as trained reserve second lieutenants in the infantry to the trenches, and there getting killed ‘pour la patrie’ and the glory of the ENS and its director Ernest Lavisse, “L’instituteur national”.

Here’s a G-translation of his letter to the young French, published September 23rd 1914:

Dear children of France, You will be old one day, and, like the old, you will like to remember times past. There will come evenings when your little children, seeing you dreaming, will say to you: Tell us, grandfather. And you will tell. It will be a few episodes of the war, a long march, an alert, a bayonet assault, a cavalry charge, the feat of a battery of 75, the strewn enemy dead on the plain, or else, in the streets of a city, the serried ranks of corpses left standing for lack of room to fall; and then the death of comrades, the terrible losses of your company and your regiment, your wounds received in Belgium, in Champagne, on the banks of the Rhine, beyond the Rhine; but the joy of victories, the poles knocked down on too narrow frontiers, triumphal entries.

On those evenings, after the amazed children have gone to sleep, you will open a drawer where you will have collected precious objects, a bullet extracted from a wound, a piece of shell, a cloth where your blood will have turned pale, a cross of honour, I hope, or a military medal, at the very least a medal from the 1914 war, on the ribbon of which the silver clasps will bear the names of immortal battles. And whatever your life, happy or unhappy, you will be able to say: I lived great days such as the history of men had not yet seen. And you will be right to be proud of your youth, because you are sublime young people!

I have read your letters; I have spoken with the wounded. Through you, I know what heroism is. I had heard a lot about it, being a historian by profession, but now I see it, I touch it, and how beautiful your heroism is, embellished with grace and smiling in the French way! Young soldiers if you were given one chevron per battle, your march would not be enough to accommodate them, because at the end of the war you would count more chevrons than years;

Young soldiers you are glorious old warriors.

Oh! Thanks thanks! Thank you for the beautiful end of life that you give to the elderly who, for forty-four years have suffered so much from the abasement of the fatherland.

The 44 years refers to the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 in which Bourbaki (the general) played a dramatic role.

The next cycle of militant patriotism occurred in the years leading up to the second world war. Here, Andre Weil’s experiences mirror those of Clancy. He tried several times to escape, first from military action (although he too was a reserve officer in the French army), then from France itself. He was captured in Finland, brought back to France to face trial and imprisonment, was released on the condition that he did active military duty, escaped with the French army to England, there demobilised he refused to join de Gaulle’s troops, left England on a boat to Marseille, from where he escaped to the US.

All this, and much more, you can read in his autobiography The Apprenticeship of a Mathematician, especially Chapter VI, The War and I: A Comic Opera in Six Acts.



(for TØP-ers, note the Bishop-red cover…)

Comic or not, the book tries to ‘explain’ his actions in those years, but failed to convince the French from offering him a professorship at a French university after the war.

Perhaps it may be worth looking into a comparison between Weil’s autobiography and the collected Clancy letters.

I guess that’s the best I can do to explain the use of that Weil photo by TØP. Surely they didn’t search any deeper as to where and when this picture was taken, or who the girl was next to Weil.

In case anyone might be interested, I’ll be happy to explain my own theory about this in another post.

I’m sure the full photograph ended up in the ‘Trench-bible’, given to the director of their clip-movies. The scenery is used at the end of the Jumpsuit video when ‘Clancy’ takes out a jumpsuit from the burning car and walks away along a road very similar to that in the photo.



The boy/girl shielding his/her eyes for the violence, should have been used at about minute one into the Outside video



Now, there’s another Weil (or rather Bourbaki) photograph we know did inspire Twenty One Pilots, the classic picture at the Dieulefit/Beauvallon 1938 Bourbaki-congress



which was photoshopped in order to get Szolem Mandelbrojt in from the Chancay (quite similar to Clancy now that i type this) 1937 Bourbaki congress



Now, these were the only two Bourbaki-meetings Simone Weil (Andre’s sister) attended, and she features prominently in both pictures.

Probably this brother/sister thing struct a chord with Twenty One Pilots. But then, you quickly end up with this iconic picture of both of them, taken in the summer of 1922, just before Andre entered the Ecole Normale (he entered the ENS at age 16…)



I’d love to be send a copy of the ‘Trench bible’ because I’m fairly certain also this photograph is in it. At the end of the Nico and the niners-video you see this boy and girl (who may be around age 9 and discover the truth about Dema) finding a jumpsuit with the Bishops approaching



and they reappear a bit older at the end of the Outside-video, with a burning Dema in the background.



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Bourbaki = Bishops or Banditos?

In this series I’m trying to make sense of the inclusion of Nicolas Bourbaki in the storyline of Trench, the fifth studio album by American musical duo Twenty One Pilots (or TØP).

That story is about the walled city of Dema, ruled by nine bishops dressed in red cloaks. They enforce their religion, called Vialism, on the inhabitants of Dema. The end-goal in Vialism is that you take your own life, having maximal impact (think: suicide bombers).



Outside the walls of Dema is the land of Trench, where a group of fighters (the Banditos) set up camp. They are dressed in grey trenchcoats adorned with yellow ribbons, and their goal is to help people escape from Dema, via its east side.

What on earth has the Bourbaki group to do with any of this?

We know from a tweet by Tyler Joseph that one Bourbaki-photograph (or at least a PhotoShopped version of it) played an important role in the creative process, as he used it as the background image on his Mac while producing the album.

It can also be seen, blurred in the background, in the opening seconds of his interview with Zane Lowe on Apple Music:

Here are the three versions: the original photo, overlayed with the tweet-image, and a screenshot from the interview:




In the original photo, taken at the 1938 Dieulefit Bourbaki congress, we see seven people, from left to right

In the overlayed image an additional eight person, a bearded man, is PhotoShopped in the doorway, and in the screenshot we see that apart from this mystery man the empty chair in the lower left corner is replaced by a ninth person.

Common belief among the ‘clique’ (TØP’s fanbase name) is that the nine people in the desktop image are the nine bishops of Dema, with the bearded man being Nico (the head-bishop), Andre Weil bishop Andre, and Simone Weil bishop Sacarver (the only known female bishop).

But who are these two additional persons?

In a remarkable tour de force, Reddit user ‘banditosleepers’ was able to find the man sitting in the lower left corner (though he identified him wrongly)

I found one of the people shopped into Tyler’s desktop (2018)
by u/banditosleepers in twentyonepilots

There’s this other famous pre-WW2 photo of a Bourbaki congress, this time the 1937 congress in Chancay:

Here we see, from left to right:

That is, the ninth person, sitting in the left lower corner of the screenshot is Szolem Mandelbrojt (and not Claude Chevalley, as claimed in the Reddit-post).

There’s another photo, taken at about the same moment, showing that also Jean Dieudonne (sitting on the bank in front next to Andre Weil) and Charles Ehresmann (sitting on the bank on the right, next to Jean Delsarte and Claude Chevalley) were present.

Several people (myself included) have wasted too many hours trying to identify the bearded man in the doorway, starting from the assumption that he too might have some connection with Bourbaki (either the group or the general), without success.

There’s one problem with the ‘bearded man = Nico’ hypothesis. Nico is supposed to be the tallest of the bishops, and bearded man’s head is level with Andre Weil’s head, who stand on the first step, so bearded man must at least be 15cm smaller than Andre, who was already rather short.

Here’s a theory.

The original Dieulefit 1938 photo is the first one on the Wikipedia page for Nicolas Bourbaki, and if you click on it you get a link to one of my own blogposts Bourbaki and the miracle of silence.

In that post (from 2010) I found the exact location where that photo was taken: the Ecole de Beauvallon, founded in 1929 by Marguerite Soubeyran and Catherine Krafft, which was the first ‘modern’ boarding school in France for both boys and girls having behavioural problems. From 1936 on the school’s director was Simone Monnier.

The lower picture is taken at the Ecole de Beauvallon in 1943, the woman in the middle is Marguerite Soubeyran.

From 1936 on, about 20 refugees from the Spanish civil war found a home at the school, and in the ‘pension’, next to the school. When WW2 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, many in the Ecole and the Pension. None were betrayed to the Germans, and this is called Le miracle de silence à Dieulefit.



Given this historical context, there is only one possible way to include this Bourbaki-photo in the Trench-storyline: the Ecole de Beauvallon is the equivalent of the Bandito-camp, and the Bourbakis are Banditos (or at the very least, refugees having found a safe place in the camp).

In hindsight this was already given away by Tyler Joseph in that he gave the photo the color yellow, specifically Bandito-yellow 0xFCE300, which the bishops are unable to see (they see it as grey).

How does this help in identifying the bearded man in the doorway?

Standing in the doorway, he’s the one feeling at home there, gathering around him his guests or fellow fighters. My conjecture is that he is the leader of the bandito-camp, as seen at 2.12 in the movieclip of Levitate.

Granted, it is not a perfect match. I think ‘bearded man’ is how Tyler Joseph envisioned the camp-leader, and included his picture in the ‘Trench Bible’, the 60 page booklet given to the movie-director, who did the casting some months later.



Next time we will try to find City of Dema, or at least what it should be if you take the inclusion of Bourbaki in the Trench storyline seriously.

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