Explorers, Alchemists, Wrestlers And Detectives

An interesting article from the mathematician David Mumford:

“I think one can make a case for dividing mathematicians into several tribes depending on what most strongly drives them into their esoteric world. I like to call these tribes explorers, alchemists, wrestlers and detectives. Of course, many mathematicians move between tribes and some results are not cleanly part the property of one tribe:

  • Explorers are people who ask — are there objects with such and such properties and if so, how many?
  • Alchemists, on the other hand, are those whose greatest excitement comes from finding connections between two areas of math that no one had previously seen as having anything to do with each other.
  • Wrestlers are those who are focussed on relative sizes and strengths of this or that object.
  • Finally Detectives are those who doggedly pursue the most difficult, deep questions, seeking clues here and there, sure there is a trail somewhere, often searching for years or decades.”

It makes you think about how you and others go about their work, particularly in a research setting. Just what are the aspects that most fascinate you and why and can you think of a catchy word to summarise your approach.

The detective connection, in a more general setting, is also mentioned here.

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