My wife and I enjoyed the show. Charlie, the mathematician character, definitely fits within the convex hull of math types I know. I liked the scene where Charlie asked several people to position themselves randomly and remarked that they were evenly spaced while real random points would have some clusters. Viewers might actually learn some interesting mathematical concepts watching this show.

At one point Charlie's physicist friend says something like "You are almost thirty at the peak of your game and most mathematicians only have five to six good years in them." Generally accurate but a little disheartening to this forty-one year old.

"You are almost thirty at the peak of your game and most mathematicians only have five to six good years in them." Generally accurate but a little disheartening to this forty-one year old.

ReplyDeleteHow useful is it to dwell on and buy into the above

stereotype? Lots of good mathematics gets done by

people over forty and even older.

"Generally accurate but a little disheartening to this forty-one year old."

ReplyDeleteDon't feel too bad. Think of Andrew Wiles, Paul Erdos and John Von Neumann.

On the other hand, I remember seeing a show on string theory which featured Ed Witten. He said that when he was young he had insights very frequently and that now the insights come less frequently. :(

I've always been a little suspicious of this bit of folk wisdom... The deck for measuring greatness is somewhat stacked (the Fields medal is explicitly for the under 40 set). If there is any truth to it at all, the reason might social rather than biological. There are many intangible factors like people getting forced out of the profession or losing interest a few years after grad school. Or perhaps good people get "rewarded" with such plums as committee work, editorial duties and lots of students to advise, so that their research suffers.

ReplyDeleteAnyway, surely this recent NYT article will cheer you up:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/25/science/25beag.html

We shouldn't cite the Fields Medal as the basis for the 'over 40 is over the hill' notion in mathematics.

ReplyDelete(Hardy's 'A Mathematician's Apology' deserves some significant credit, though.) The Fields' Medal rule was put in to prevent the senior establishment from giving the award to their senior cronies rather than making some claim about the age at which mathematicians do their best work.