Friday, January 09, 2009


JSH: But their emotion is understandable

It's one thing for me to easily prove a massive error in abstract "pure math" number theory, but it's another for people in the field to accept it as it is a humbling reality, and the emotion is understandable.

These people have tremendous prestige. The phrase "beautiful minds" is often used to describe at least some of them.

They work in prestigious institutions where they have a lot of respect. Young people who are their students look up to them, listen to them, and obey them as they assign study, homework, and research tasks.

They ARE somebody.

But the error for number theorists at least can mean that in a sense it was all a big lie.

The concept of "pure math" became popular and some number theorists may see themselves as pure mathematicians only, and thus, sadly, may have no valid research results no matter how long their careers as the problem has been in the field for over a hundred years.

Their denial is very human. And very sad despite being understandable.

For physicists acknowledging the error will lift a huge burden, be exciting, and potentially open up wide new avenues for explanation of our physical world.

For mathematicians, it's embarrassing and raises serious questions about how they will rank themselves in the future.

For physicists, not such a bad thing, just an upheaval like ones that have come before.

For mathematicians, disaster, unlike any in their history, and something they have proudly proclaimed was impossible in their field.

The lesson here is that no field is immune from upheaval.

Their emotion is understandable, but they cannot be allowed to live in error for the sake of their feelings.

The world eventually will have to come to grips with the reality—yes, you are going to hurt their feelings.

Perspective though, there are much bigger tragedies in this world than humbled academics.

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