A fascinating tale of mayhem, mystery, and mathematics – Piper Harron

“Acknowledgements

In the early 1800s when this journey first began, I was but a young and naive graduate student. Centuries later, I am a wife, mother of two, and dare I say, mathematician….

Prologue

Respected research math is dominated by men of a certain attitude. Even allowing for individual variation, there is still a tendency towards an oppressive atmosphere, which is carefully maintained and even championed by those who find it conducive to success. As any good grad student would do, I tried to fit in, mathematically. I absorbed the atmosphere and took attitudes to heart. I was miserable, and on the verge of failure. The problem was not individuals, but a system of self-preservation that, from the outside, feels like a long string of betrayals, some big, some small, perpetrated by your only support system. When I physically removed myself from the situation, I did not know where I was or what to do. First thought: FREEDOM!!!! Second thought: but what about the others like me, who don’t do math the “right way” but could still greatly contribute to the community? I combined those two thoughts and started from zero on my thesis. What resulted was a thesis written for those who do not feel that they are encouraged to be themselves. People who, for instance, try to read a math paper and think, “Oh my goodness what on earth does any of this mean why can’t they just say what they mean????” rather than, “Ah, what lovely results!” (I can’t even pretend to know how “normal” mathematicians feel when they read math, but I know it’s not how I feel.) My thesis is, in many ways, not very serious, sometimes sarcastic, brutally honest, and very me. It is my art. It is myself. It is also as mathematically complete as I could honestly make it….”

Princeton graduate Piper Harron’s PhD thesis

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martin56jones

"The mathematician's patterns, like the painter's or the poet's, must be beautiful; the ideas, like the colours or the words, must fit together in a harmonious way. " G H Hardy, A Mathematician's Apology (London 1941).

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