Portrait of Terence Tao [video]


63 points | by bhavishyad 222 days ago


  • grahamannett 221 days ago

    Terence Tao is so incredibly interesting and unpretentious. I've often found that math "geniuses" seem to be the least pretentious of the genius level people in academia/stem and I slightly wonder if that's actually true and if so, why?

    • kkylin 221 days ago

      He is also incredibly clear -- I've had the chance to hear a couple of his (technical) talks. He does not oversimplify, but has a way to explaining the heart of the issue in non-technical terms so one could follow without being an expert in the specific area being discussed. (Though I'd imagine experts would get even more out of his talks.)

      • btilly 221 days ago

        That is no accident.

        A requirement for clear speech is clear thinking. Very clear thinking is required to be a successful polymath in a technically challenging field.

        In order to accomplish in a technical field, such as math, you need to think very "efficiently". It is possible to do this by spending so long coming up with a mental model of a specific area that your thoughts are efficient, but cannot necessarily be communicated to people except when their mental understanding is a reasonable match to your own.

        However you cannot do this simultaneously in a great many areas. Therefore a polymath must find ways to construct models that are both simple and efficient. The underlying simplicity of their understanding then becomes evident in how clearly they can explain a precise understanding of whatever they are talking about.

        • kornish 221 days ago

          Well phrased. It's no coincidence that Feynman, another famous polymath, was also famously clear and concise.

          • kkylin 220 days ago

            I agree with all that, though I also want to add that the converse is not true -- clear thinking is not, by itself, enough for clear exposition. The latter requires investing additional effort, which many people are unwilling or unable to make.

        • FeteCommuniste 221 days ago

          After they finish their work for the day, they have nothing left to prove. (Sorry).

          • z2 221 days ago

            Jokes aside, I think that's exactly it. Mathematicians aren't tempted in the way that others may be in connecting what they do to humanity. Not being in it to cure a disease, build a better mousetrap, or create a triumphant explanation for existence does wonders to keep the ego in check.

            • curuinor 221 days ago

              Difficulty of mathematics and the fact that they can be wrong can also keep ego in check.

          • dwohnitmok 221 days ago

            In a related vein, the only debates I've heard where all participants will constantly flip back and forth between opposing positions and earnestly argue for each position before converging on a common understanding (all in the same debate) are discussions of math proofs. I don't know if this generalizes to mathematicians as people, but I find those debates much more fruitful and fun than other debates.

          • 221 days ago
            • mhh__ 221 days ago


              The blog of the man himself: Always fun to read, and especially rewarding if you thought you were familiar with what he's discussing...

              • baabo 221 days ago

                The interview is more recent than 2006. The year refers to the year he received fields medal.

                • dang 221 days ago

                  Thanks, I think we misread that.