A PhD student in Math at PRESTIGIOUS SCHOOL was defending his thesis which was in REALLY ABSTRACT AREA and BIG SHOT IN THAT AREA was in town and decided to go to the defense. At the end of the defense BIGSHOT said The object you are studying is NOTION OF TRIVIAL FOR THAT OBJECT.I've heard this with PRESTIGIOUS SCHOOL being Harvard, MIT, or Princeton. I've heard it with REALLY ABSTRACT AREA being Category theory, Algebraic Geometry, Topology, or Logic. I've heard it with NOTION OF TRIVIAL being the empty set, any finite set, a 1-point space, or an inconsistent system of axioms. I have not heard all possible combinations. For example, if the area was algebraic geometry, it is unlikely that the notion of triviality be an inconsistent system of axioms, unless the teller got his legends wrong.
Is this a pure math pure urban legend or was there ever a case like this? I suspect that it is pure fiction. You may be thinking: Math is so abstract that it could have happened. True enough, but do not confuse what could have happened with what did happen.
Like most urban legends the story persists because, while it may be false, the point it is making--- math is so abstract it is possible to lose track of what you are talking about--- has some truth to it.
If this story is true or even mostly and you KNOW this then please leave a comment to that affect.