FOM: General intellectual interest/challenges

Torkel Franzen torkel at
Wed Dec 17 11:41:00 EST 1997

  Harvey Friedman writes:

  >It is easy to state clearly and concisely what the general intellectual
  >interest of P=NP is and its importance for lots of diverse contexts way
  >beyond mathematics. Furthermore, this can easily be done in such a way that
  >people from the following disciplines can readily grasp and relate to it,
  >and see its intellectual and other importance: [28 disciplines mentioned]

  I suspect you're living in a fool's paradise. A fair proportion of
your audience would leave your presentation believing that P=NP means
"polynomial equals non-polynomial" and is some kind of paradox that
people play around with, while others would have a fair grasp of the
meaning of the expression but fail (for any number of reasons) to be
excited by it.

  Of course it may be that you are a brilliant expositor and your
audience a bunch of very bright, alert and interested people, in which
case the presentation may well be a thundering success, uplifting to
one and all. But another lecturer might do the same for zeta

  The technicalities beloved by experts are usually boring to outsiders.
This is as true of the foundations of mathematics as of algebraic
geometry. But equally, the beginnings of practically any subject can
be made exciting and relevant to a general audience. This is true of
foundations, of linear algebra, of topology, of differential equations.

  In short, I don't see that there is any very significant squabbling
going on here.

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