Obsession

“His character is full of flaws, flittering from one obsessive behaviour to another, and he does this effortlessly.”  Mathematics is back with a vengeance, taking up all of my mental space. The same obsessive behaviour that got me to write almost 300 blog posts in a single year has reverted back to its old ways. Ever since my French economist friend enticed me into this mathematical problem, I can’t seem to be able to do anything else but mathematics. The problem has been settled by now, but it is all those potential ramifications that keep contributing to the angst. Have I seen the whole picture? Plus, what’s with my brain and its new ways?

Can it be that after a year of over-indulging with web-based and mobile-based technologies, my thought processes have been altered? At my age? I am convinced they did. Blogging, tweeting, and surfing the net might seem banal to most of us old school intellectuals, but think about the huge amount of reading they lead to, the vast array of subjects, the dizzying speed at which we are acquiring knowledge, and the twitter-induced versatility to move from one subject to another. Granted, most of it might be “junk knowledge”, but still the stimulation that all this action must induce on the neurons shouldn’t be discounted. None of my web-based “élucubrations” were directly connected to mathematical research, yet I feel that my mathematical skills have changed somewhat. Let me just say that they are not worse than before. OK, fine! “They couldn’t get worse anyway”, I hear you say!

I may be classified as a “pure mathematician”, but I can assure you that “the purest” among us get this extra stimulation if (or once) we know that our results are useful to others, scientists or not. I had been lured to my latest set of research problems by their potential impact on economics theory, but then the ever unassuming Luigi Ambrosio came to me after my talk at BIRS last week to say in his familiar soft voice.

“What you have done may be relevant to those physicists and mathematicians who are reformulating the interaction energy functional for “strictly correlated electrons” as an N-dimensional mass transport, where the cost functional is the Newtonian potential which correspond to N interacting electrons. Of course it was! and for days, I didn’t sleep until I made sure to learn and prove that it was. Need I tell you how many of the participants reminded me that I should be writing a testimonial to the scientific director, to document this BIRS-induced epiphany?

I am now in Brussels giving a mini-course to a healthy contingent of international (mostly European) graduate students, where I will certainly find a way to slip in some of my new knowledge. Mathematicians here have managed to get their administrators to cough up a load of Euros by referring to an old collaborative agreement between the Free University and a number of universities (including UBC, Berkeley, Oxford, Cambridge and Paris VI). They then secured one lecturer from each of the partner universities and used the cash to support more than 100 participating graduate students. And they say that mathematicians lack in resourcefulness. Actually, I heard today that Isaac Newton had also contributed to the UK economy by helping it save millions of pounds. Read here if you care enough.

Then, off to St Petersburgh for this celebration of the 100th anniversary of a great mathematician, Leonid Kantorovich, who started it all, and who eventually won the Nobel price in Economics. For the life of me, I could never understand how these Russians managed to produce so much high level mathematics back in the early forties, while at the same fighting the Nazis and probably worrying about goulags and the like.

I hope that by the time I get to Paris later in June for this top-experts conference in Orsay, I will have finished crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s in that paper.

It takes an obsession to get rid of an obsession … until the next “obsession of mind”.

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