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Loving and Hating Mathematics by Reuben Hersh, Vera John-Steiner

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Friendships and Partnerships

Do mathematicians have friends? The popular image of a mathematician is that of a solitary man, alone at his desk or blackboard. In this chapter, we will see how far from the truth this picture is. While the sustained concentration needed for mathematical research does require quiet and a highly focused mind-set, an intense and prolonged independent search can come to a dead end. The researcher who listens to colleagues’ insights can break through his private perspective.

One morning early in my (Hersh’s) years as a thesis student of Peter Lax, I entered my mentor’s office to find him glowing in smiles. “Louis is back!” he cried out to me. Louis, I wondered? Oh yes, Louis Nirenberg, also one of the partial differential ...

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