The Mathematical Genius

As we have seen, Richard Price believed that his duty and purpose in life was to be a minister and a preacher, and he believed that any activity not related to the ministry was trivial. It is truly amazing that these ‘trivial’ had such an enormous impact not only on eighteenth century life but continues to resonate in today’s society.

In 1761 Thomas Bayes died. Bayes was a Presbyterian Minister and noted Mathematician. On his death his wife gave Richard Price his papers which included an unsolved problem related to probability. The question revolved around trying to determine the odds of something happening again if it or something else had happened or occurred. For example, imagine you threw a set of dice (or die) and you got a double six. What Bayes wanted to know is what is the likelihood of you throwing another double six on your second throw?

Whilst all of this is in itself interesting, the real reason behind wanting to determine what is the likelihood of something happening was to determine the likelihood of God existing and on whether it was likely, indeed probable that miracles had taken place during Jesus’ time on earth. Therefore Price would have considered his work on trying to solve the problems associated with probability as being far from trivial but would be central to his calling as a preacher and theologian.

We don’t know for certain just how much extra work Price did to Thomas Bayes’ original work on probability. We do know that Bayes was unhappy with his own explanation and that he specifically asked for his unfinished works to be given to Richard Price on his death. And we also know that Price made significant advances to Bayes’ work. Price communicated his finished paper to the Royal Society via John Canton, another visionary scientist of the day and a few days later Richard Price was sponsored to become elected to the Royal Society with one of the sponsors being his friend Benjamin Franklin.

What is truly astounding about this is the fact that Richard Price is not as well-known as he should be for his contribution to the foundations of the modern world. Without Price’s works on mathematics which founded Actuarial Science we would not have had a stable and reliable Insurance Industry that was capable of underwriting the great engineering advances for the next two hundred years. Everything from the Titanic to the Space Shuttle, from Macro-economics to Life Pensions are based on the probability theory of Richard Price. Oh, and before we leave this page – the ultra modern science of creating Artificial Intelligence also relies on the work of this eighteenth century polymath.

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