January 15, 2004
(Incomplete) laws of explanation

Tim Bray suggests two laws of explanation:

When you’re explaining something to somebody and they don’t get it, that’s not their problem, it’s your problem; When someone’s explaining something to you and you’re not getting it, it’s not your problem, it’s their problem

Neither law is true in mathematics. In fact the opposite is true: The obligation of the mathematician is entirely one to understand never one to explain. Mathematics is eternally true, remember? And obviously you never need to explain eternal truth. In fact, vigorous attempts at persuasion are frowned upon, since they imply that the original statement somehow fails to withstand scrutiiny. Why would you be trying to beat down the scrutiny otherwise?
The folklore of mathematics is rife with stories of brilliant people making bold mysterious claims and leaving no further explanation than the apparent brilliance or marvel of their claim. The most famous case would be Fermat's last theorem.

Posted by Claus at January 15, 2004 01:55 AM | TrackBack (0)
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