FOM: What's important

Martin Davis martind at
Tue Aug 11 14:33:55 EDT 1998

Harvey points out that inevitably judgements are made about what subjects
are important. As the economists will tells us, scarce resources need to be

We can try to learn something from history. Too often these decisions are
made de facto both those controlling the resources. My paradigm example of
this (from my forthcoming book LEIBNIZ'S DREAM) is the persistent efforts of
the Dukes of Hanover to get Leibniz to work on what was really important:
the history of their family! Too often even the leading thinkers in
mathematics have been woefully slow to recognize the importance of novel
developments. Think of Cauchy on Galois. It is not hard to think of
contemporary examples of both of these phenomena. (See for example, recent
discussions on this list of why F.O.M. tends to be scorned.)

If there is any guidance that emerges from this, it is then when people who
obviously are really outstanding appear, it is a mistake to try to tell them
what they ought to be thinking about.


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