Friday, November 11, 2011

after & before: part two.

i can't remember when i first drafted this, but it was probably the day before my second talk (at TKK) which was .. one and a half weeks ago already.

i'm uneasy about most topics.

when i give talks about generalizations of the schοenflies problem or Sobolev extensiοn domains or ΡDEs, i get quite anxious, and with good reason. [0]

these are well-established topics with much history to them.  try as i might, i always seem to be ignorant of some significant part of the literature .. and in particular, what types of theorems or proofs are "standard." [1]

when i talk about my "geοmetric" work, however .. and by this i mean this stuff relating to (metric) derivatiοns .. then the situation changes completely.

it would be wrong to say that i am an expert on the subject, if only because there are plenty of things that i don't understand about them.  it's safe to say, however, that nobody is an expert, either!

i guess that makes me a little like socrates [2] .. (-:

it's not that i insist on knowing more than everyone else in the room; i've resigned myself to the fact that there is always someone smarter or more familiar with the literature.

rather, it's the matter that if i make a mistake, then the fallout is minor.  like everyone else, i hate it when people criticise me by my mistakes .. even if i do deserve it, sometimes.

there's another aspect about derivatiοns worth mentioning, as the topic of a talk:

if this is a subject little-known, then my role can be put to good use.  there are few references on the subject, so i can point out how the theory works.  doing so, perhaps i can convince others that the theory can be put to good use.
put one way, a beautiful theory is like a night sky: a canvas of stars that is well-arranged by Nature's Benevolence, distant but worthy of contemplation.

a useful theory, however, is more like a clutter of heavy stones in a field, perhaps meteors comedown to earth, long ago.  stone, despite being crude and ugly matter, are fodder for tools and building material.  from them we form homes and towns, societies and civilizations. [3]
i don't believe that mathematics is always beautiful.

look hard enough at the details of a theory, and it becomes hard to see any beauty in them.  sometimes i wonder if the notion of beauty is inherently retrospective .. in the intellectual sense, anyway.

[0] there was this one talk i gave about manifolds with non-negatιve Riccι curνature, some years ago.  my plan was to learn a setting in which you can actually prove the validity of a Pοincaré inequality (vs. most of the time it is taken as a hypothesis).  it wasn't until i started discussing the proof, that the audience pointed out an error to me .. which lay in the textbook i used, but the fact remains that i missed it completely .. [sighs]

[1] oddly enough, most of my non-geοmetric work is collaborative, especially the stuff relating to ΡDEs and Sobοlev spaces.  This cannot be a mere coincidence.. \-:

[2] according to legend, a man from athens traveled to see the oracle at delphi and asked: "who is the wisest man in all of athens?"  unlike the usual cryptic answers, the oracle simply answered, "socrates."

upon hearing the news, socrates became disillusioned instead of delighted, because he couldn't believe that he knew more than every other athenian.  so began a long and systematic inquiry: socrates found experts on every subject he could think of and began to debate with them, and after a while each expert admitted that he, too, knew nothing.

this put socrates into a further melancholy.  he discovered that nobody knew anything ..

.. until one day, while taking a stroll, it occurred to socrates: nobody knew anything, but he himself knew that nobody knew anything.  this meant that he indeed knew something.  since everyone else he encountered knew nothing, it meant that he was the wisest man in athens, after all ..

[3] i've been reading thoreau's walking lately ..

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