There have been a bunch of really good articles on math related stuff. A lot of these have been mentioned on other blogs — see the hat tips — but I want to collect them all here so I don’t forget about them. Also who knows maybe not everyone reading this has seen them yet. So here are a bunch of links:
- The Singular Mind of Terry Tao (NYT): This might be the best profile of a mathematician done by a popular media outlet in a long time. The author — Gareth Cook — does an great job not falling into the standard tropes regarding mathematicians i.e. crazy genius, lone genius, etc. Moreover even his praise of Tao as a genius is tempered by his discussion of how part of this is Tao’s ability/desire to collaborate with others. Overall the piece is a phenominal and humanizing to someone who is very well one of the best mathematicians working today. That said I think my favorite part of the the article is how it captures the process of doing mathematics research:
“The steady state of mathematical research is to be completely stuck. It is a process that Charles Fefferman of Princeton, himself a onetime math prodigy turned Fields medalist, likens to ‘‘playing chess with the devil.’’ The rules of the devil’s game are special, though: The devil is vastly superior at chess, but, Fefferman explained, you may take back as many moves as you like, and the devil may not. You play a first game, and, of course, ‘‘he crushes you.’’ So you take back moves and try something different, and he crushes you again, ‘‘in much the same way.’’ If you are sufficiently wily, you will eventually discover a move that forces the devil to shift strategy; you still lose, but — aha! — you have your first clue.
As a group, the people drawn to mathematics tend to value certainty and logic and a neatness of outcome, so this game becomes a special kind of torture. And yet this is what any would-be mathematician must summon the courage to face down: weeks, months, years on a problem that may or may not even be possible to unlock. You find yourself sitting in a room without doors or windows, and you can shout and carry on all you want, but no one is listening.”
Hat tip to Quomodocumque — who also has a quote in the article.
- Empowering Who(m)? The Challenge of Diversifying Mathematics: Prof. David Kung, a former UW Madison Ph.D., discusses the state of diversity in mathematics (hint: it’s not great), what he thinks the causes of the lack of diversity might be, and what he thinks can be done to change this. For some reason WordPress or YouTube won’t let me embed this. Hat tip to Mathbabe.
- Tohoku: Prof. Rick Jardine gives a very nice overview of both the content and impact of Grothendieck’s famous Tohoku paper. (Here is an English translation.) For those unfamiliar with this paper it was Grothendieck’s recast of homological algebra in his style, and served as the starting point for much of his future work on algebraic geometry:
“Grothendieck’s Tōhoku paper was the start of a long period of axiomatic machine building…The machines themselves are context independent combinatorial constructions. They go anywhere. And they are applicable in multiple parts of the mathematical sciences, including traditional mathematical areas, but also in other disciplines.”
Hat tip to Not Even Wrong.