FOM: Dark pubs

Lou van den Dries vdries at
Tue Mar 10 00:42:51 EST 1998

  This is in reaction to recent messages of Simpson and Pratt
about Macintyre. Not a bad description, these "darkly lit pubs"
(or words to that effect). I have fond memories of those places
in New Haven where Angus and I had many lively discussions in
the years '79-'81. And of course, Oxford has some great pubs, and
I can still hear the booming voice of Robin Gandy in those places. 
But the part about students and junior colleagues listening in silence
to a "pontificating" Macintyre is the total opposite of my experience.
 The picture conjured up by Steve in this regard is just silly.
  What Pratt remembers rings more true (and concerns an issue where I
disagree with Angus' position), but here deeds speak louder than words:
much of his mathematics is characterized by incisive and ultimately
simple leading ideas, not something I associate with his pronounced
opinion on what is good mathematics. (Of course, it may be that he is not
living up to his own ideals, but it also could be that he just views his
stand in a different way.) 
-Lou van den Dries-

PS. I hesitate to bring this up in a forum on foundations of mathematics,
but there is the well-known complaint of Marston Morse:
"Always the foundations, and never the cathedral".
(Said, I believe, in the early 50's when topology was undergoing a
foundational phase, and the more geometrically oriented topology of Morse
became temporarily less fashionable. Anyway, the pendulum has safely
swung back in that subject.) From a general intellectual point of view,
isn't it odd to be more or less permanently preoccupied with the 
foundations of a subject to the point of loosing interest in the subject
itself? (Just a, perhaps provocative, question. I guess division of
labour is a possible answer, but this clearly presents difficulties
if serious intellectual communication with the practitioners of the
subject itself is endangered.) 

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