BLAST 2010, first impressions
I am spending this week in Boulder, Colorado, at the BLAST 2010 [Wayback Machine] and it’s off to a great start.
There are many reasons I am enjoying myself. The city’s location is naturally amazing and I look forward to the conference hike on Friday. The town seems very nice as far as I got around and the campus is beautiful. Socially speaking, I thoroughly enjoy meeting familiar faces and friends in numbers I never experienced before. Scientifically speaking, the tutorials are excellent, both Matti Rubin and Andreas Blass are amazing teachers. Also, some personal conversations already led to new (and surprising) results, so that’s quite cool. I keep wondering a little if there could be a better format for talks in mathematics. The usual setup I have encountered so far seems consisting of invited speakers getting around 45 mins, others 30 mins. This mostly leads to invited speakers giving much too broad talks whereas the other speakers start to rush a lot. As much as I love LaTeXs Beamer class, the power point problem of too many and too easily forgotten slides hurts mathematical talks badly since there are no best practices, there is no power point zen for mathematics.
And there is this thought that always overcomes me at some point during conferences. After listening to fascinating and intricate new and old results, after getting a glimpse at so many concepts and techologies that I barely follow, I eventually start to worry about the future of
pure mathematics mathematical logic. Why do we do it? Of course, a conference is not the ideal place for this question (but where is it?). Pure mathematicians might agree that mathematics is ‘mostly useless’ — just as art and literature and staring into the sky is mostly useless. Useless in that there are rarely immediate ‘real world’ applications in sight. Of course, history is on our side and there are many examples of extremely pure, mathematical results that came to be applied decades or centuries later.
For day to day lives, teaching seems the natural answer. Any student that is taught a class in a field of mathematical logic has gained an education in abstract thinking on a level that no other field of mathematics offers. But in the current scientific climate, teaching is not an accceptable justification, only research is (or really, publishablity and impact factor, sadly enough). But if reasearch is ‘mostly useless’, where does this leave us?