You’ve got to feel it

Michael AtiyahFor some reason, the smartest people seem to put a high value on beauty and understanding. At 86, Michael Atiyah is still on his quest for both, as you can read here in Quanta. Just a pearl (my emphasis):

People think mathematics begins when you write down a theorem followed by a proof. That’s not the beginning, that’s the end. For me the creative place in mathematics comes before you start to put things down on paper, before you try to write a formula. You picture various things, you turn them over in your mind. You’re trying to create, just as a musician is trying to create music, or a poet. There are no rules laid down. You have to do it your own way. But at the end, just as a composer has to put it down on paper, you have to write things down. But the most important stage is understanding. A proof by itself doesn’t give you understanding. You can have a long proof and no idea at the end of why it works. But to understand why it works, you have to have a kind of gut reaction to the thing. You’ve got to feel it.

And for some reason, I adore photographs of old professors with a blackboard full of mathematics behind.

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Featured Image: Michael Atiyah, Quanta

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