FOM: Re: General intellectual interest/challenges

Harvey Friedman friedman at
Thu Dec 18 09:39:56 EST 1997

Reply to Torkel Franzen 5:41PM 12/17/97.

What country did you write this nonsense from? In this country, P=NP is
material for bright high school students. The computer revolution may be
slower than we realize to get from here to there.

>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

Brilliant expositions of P=NP and surrounding material have surely been
done and succeeded about 500 times in the last decade in this country
alone, and without any help from me. In comparison, how many times do you
think the same has been done for zeta functions? And in comparison, what
kind of audiences would it draw? It's you that living in a fool's paradise
- as you like to say - or the wrong part of the world.

>  The technicalities beloved by experts are usually boring to outsiders.

Exactly. There are no technicalities involved in an understanding of what's
at stake with P=NP.

>This is as true of the foundations of mathematics as of algebraic

No. Want to get a challenge from me like I gave Lou? I'll take foundations
of mathematics and P=NP, and you take foundations of algebraic geometry.
Only I want you to come over here - the epicenter of the computer
revolution - to meet the challenge and smell the roses.

>But equally, the beginnings of practically any subject can
>be made exciting and relevant to a general audience.

Equally? I though Lou was the only one on fom who could write such nonsense
pretending to have a straight face.

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

The hell if there isn't. What's at stake is: a defendable and appropriate
approach to intellectual life, open to everyone; or an indefensible and
inappropriate approach to intellectual life, open to only an inner circle.
Open insight for everybody to see, versus imbred technicalities and secret
backroom deals.

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