Reflecting on Insights from a Pure Mathematician

It is ironic that after years of studying graduate-level mathematics, it was a piece of literature I read during my studies that had the most profound influence on me. Mind you, it was written by a mathematician, but that doesn’t matter.

G. H. Hardy was arguably one of the greatest pure mathematicians of all time. He is portrayed by Jeremy Irons in The Man Who Knew Infinity, a movie that depicts his relationship with the mathematical genius Ramanujan from India.

Hardy’s A Mathematician’s Apology was published in 1940. His poetic and philosophical prose draws me in. In Apology, Hardy poses two questions that lead to the justification of his chosen profession:

A man who sets out to justify his existence and his activities has to distinguish two different questions. The first is whether the work which he does is worth doing; and the second is why he does it, whatever its value may be.

Hardy reflects on his life as a mathematician and concludes one, his work is valuable and two, he is good at it. Hey, if he had been a better cricket player, he may have chosen to be a professional cricketer.

And when others question my work, I reflect on Hardy’s morsels. I have no doubt of the answer to the first question, and I’m pretty sure I suck at baseball.

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