I'm not actually pursuing it right now. I'm trying to estimate its value (to self and others) for someone who's below the "super-genius" level of math talent: how hard is it, really, to make useful progress in mathematics?

In my opinion, based on non-scientific examination over decades first as a graduate student and then as a professor, the primary value of the middle level of talent (where most of us are if we are lucky) is usually referred to as "teaching" and might more generally be referred to as "socializing." An at least occasionally interesting teacher has the possibility of exciting interest in somebody of top talent, and has the near-certainty of exciting interest in many others who can become teachers.

Upon my graduation with a PhD from Calte... (read more)

3Qiaochu_Yuan7yExtremely hard, I think, but I may have a high bar for what constitutes useful progress (in general; FAI research might be an exception but you don't need to pursue graduate study to get in on that). My impression is the following. Most academic research seems more or less useless, and that's no less true of mathematics than other fields. There are probably too many research mathematicians at the moment. The incentives are aligned pretty strongly towards research and away from other arguably more useful-at-the-margin activities like exposition, synthesis of previous research, meta-research, and so forth. Research mathematics also seems highly competitive relative to other areas where math-related talent has applications (e.g. programming, maybe finance).

More "Stupid" Questions

by NancyLebovitz 1 min read31st Jul 2013498 comments


This is a thread where people can ask questions that they would ordinarily feel embarrassed for not knowing the answer to. The previous "stupid" questions thread went to over 800 comments in two and a half weeks, so I think it's time for a new one.