The Spectre of Math

March 29, 2013

Math is a series of trivial observations

Filed under: Mathematics,Personal — jlebl @ 4:38 pm

Mathematical proof is essentially a series of completely trivial observations wrapped in complicated-sounding notation (not complicated on purpose hopefully). The trick is not to understand the proof once it is written, but to notice those trivial observations to write a proof in the first place. I think this is what’s sometimes discouraging people from research mathematics. You work for two weeks on something that feels like a very hard problem, and then the solution seems trivial once found. In my case there are two operations and a limit involved. And the things you are trying to bound are not continuous with respect to that limit, so you flail around trying to do all sorts of complicated schemes. Then last night I think … hey why not do these two operations in reverse. I get rid of the limit and the problem becomes almost trivial after a bit of linear algebra. It feels good. But on the other hand it feels like: Why didn’t I think of this two weeks ago.

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