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Bunhill Fields Cemetery, London, England

gkat_042.pdf 51° 31 25.59 N, 0° 5 21.06 W

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The Non-conformists

Bunhill Fields Cemetery in London has been the burial place of non-conformists (Christians who were not members of the Anglican church) from the 17th century to the 19th century. Many well-known writers of the time are buried there, including John Bunyan (who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress ) and Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe ). But scientists visiting Bunhill Fields Cemetery should head straight for the grave of the mathematician and Presbyterian minister Thomas Bayes.

Thomas Bayes lived in the 18th century, and his greatest mathematical work, An Essay Towards Solving a Problem in the Doctrine of Chances , appeared after his death thanks to the efforts of Bayes’s friend, the philosopher Richard Price. The essay is extremely difficult to read—it’s written in the style and language of the time, and covers subtle points of statistics. It was published in the scientific journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London in 1763, and remained mostly unnoticed until Laplace rediscovered the essay’s most important theorem in 1774.

Bayes’s Theorem gives mathematicians a way of updating a probability when new information comes along. For ...

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