“What were you doing in Montréal?” I asked. “I gave a plenary lecture at the Congress of the Mathematical Association of Quebec on ‘L’erreur en Mathématiques’ … and I cited you a lot :)”. My friend was only half-joking! What he was talking about is how historic mistakes by illustrious mathematicians (such as Henri Lebesgue and Henri Poincaré) have been particularly crucial for the development of mathematics. Then I remembered Shechtman’s remarkable story en route to the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, my students’ anguish on their way to their doctoral thesis, my daughter’s super clean and polished university notes from her math and physics courses, Polanyi’s superb article on “Why our scientific discoveries need to surprise us”, and of course the bureaucrats’ soviet-style ways of imposing rigid milestones and requiring precise outcomes on developing research. All this led me to the following brilliant illustration coming from a most unlikely source.
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