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The Daily Item from Port Chester, New York • 30

Publication:
The Daily Itemi
Location:
Port Chester, New York
Issue Date:
Page:
30
Extracted Article Text (OCR)

i SECTION tl 10 Gannett Westchester NewspapersWednesdsy November 27 1985 The cryptic pursuits of an elite fraternity JU doctorate in mathematics from Stanford University than the financial rewards he would have received had he decided to be a computer scientist Despite his 15 years with IBM Mie-chelli only recently decided he is a mathematician was last year that I finally became comfortable with the fact that I am a he said But he remembers early childhood as a time of mathematical stirrings first time I got satisfaction doing well in school for the first time in my life was in algebra" he said then my dad graduate from grammar school and my mother Just went through high school so I had no experience with mathematics as a concept I remember one incident as a boy about mathematics One of my uncles told me over the phone that he wanted to pay me a weekly salary give you a dollar a week for the next SO years or give a penny and double it every day hich do you Well my greed took over and I incorrectly chose the Miccbelli is a serious-looking man with dark hair and intense eyes He in a relaxed way wearing rays and sandals with socks He told of Ms working-class background and how he thought mathematics was a trade Just like his dad's father was a plumber my mother a housewife so what did 1 know about a university? I was going th school to lean a Miccbelli said Of his going off to Rutgers as an undergraduate Later he said he learned mathematics was a pure discipline one in which he had some talent immodest as this sounds I really have much competition at Rutgers in mathematics I did quite well But when I went to Stanford well that was a different story There were some really first-rate mathematicians at Stanford" For Miccbelli like floffman ematics is beauty and truth you look at my board there are a whole bunch of symbols You can hold on to them and see where they he said begins with a conception You start with an empty board You begin to cover the board with equations Then there's a beautiful message the equations bring" Miccbelli compared mathematics with -scuba diving his hobby Both he said provide raptures found only in the deep I like sailing and scuba diving If I were rich I would go all over the world and dive in exotic places But mathematics consumes most 'of my He teaches part time at Columbia and travels to universities presenting papers or attending mathematical seminars Bruce Kitchens another IBM math-' ematician who at 1 is a decade younger1 than Miccbelli and 10 years younger than Hoffman sees mathematics as a painfully detailed thought process working on mathematics is trying to get he said not a logical' process I don't have a particular need for anything to be logical Most of the stuff I work on for years and often- times you make all the steps at once' of the time you make wrong moves you discover something and you're happy for about a week" he said Kitchens wu educated at Emory and Henry College a small southwestern Vir- By Pater Costa Staff Wrftar lathematicians work in silence I with little nwre than a piece of iHi Icfaalk and a beautiful dream ImU in their reveries waves of equations swell and sink in oceanic grandeur until they roll and crash onto a coast of conclusions' And then the intellectual sparkling and murmuring make all the- previous wave-watching worthwhile Working in the little-known and lonely profession of high-level mathematics is like belonging to a cult Its fervent members -pursue mathematics with Druidic seal and communicate in the most cryptic of all knosm languages But today's mathematical Merlins gather not in some outdoor Stonehenge or dewy Euclidian olive grove but in quiet I offices apart from the pace of the rushing world and the multimedia madness of disposable junk thoughts Alan Hoffman by virtue of his 6JI years and professorial temperament is the dean of the mathematical world at IBM Corp's Watson Laboratories in York- town Heights In his 24 year? at IBM be has contemplated many mysteries been bruised by runaway lojgical engines and experienced that ethereal moment when a mosaic of symbols combines to disclose a revelation But only an extremely small number of people can distinguish a true mathematical thunderstroke Most non-mathematicians think higher mathematics has to do with big numbers or prodigious' calculations but numbers rarely parade through high-level mathematical papers Others think higher mathematics has something to do with solving riddles but the real riddles are often not even evident to those who are postulating the apparent ones For Hoffman mathematics is a transcendental and almost spiritual journey is a sacerdotal profes-' sion" he said the priests know what it is like to do Hoffman who did both his undergraduate and graduate work at Columbia University said ''priests" must not be daunted by failure percent of the things we try fail and we're living on the 10 percent of the time the ideas work he said And those ideas brilliant beacons though they be in the mathenyatkal galaxy illuminate only a small segment of the intellectual universe many people in the world know what I'm doing? You're discovering something God didn't know you're callingit to God's Hoffman said Hoffman is a wry man who talks in -anecdotes and homilies parables and puzzlements constantly shifting Ms sentences or constructing barbed-hook syllogisms to indicate to his listener that his words add up to something much larger than the sum of their parts' Hoffman has worked for the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton the 'Bureau of Standards and the General Co He eventually came to IBM -because it offered its mathematicians the freedonj to work on investigations that the mathematicians themselves deemed important and significant Follow mathematician diaries Mic-chelli greed The intellectual freedom was worth more to Miccbelli who has a MBworasy thing very quickly it's not fun used to brag about all the problems I coukfal Sometimes Hoffman cannot release his consciousness from the probient-soiv- tog process think about them when I am driv-! tog and suddenly I realize I have no recollection of when I've been So one of my colleagues told me 'If you think don't-drive'" ItocteUi said thou who want to be mathematicians should not -only have a-large math compo- -nent to their education but a specialty to draw upon for! ideas He also urged mental toughness a young person they can meet the challenge by trying to solve a problem every day and don't be discouraged by the mental bruises" Miccbelli uid Because mathematics requires Oiym-' mental conditioning it traditionally been considered a pursuit of the young Hoffman like the good mathematician he is agreed but only conditionally is much a young per- son's game You lose speed Tteres a potentiality of lasing te uid doesn't have the same charm when -you're young I think I am doing well I used to not better the same But mathematicians take solace in the -unbroken rising curve' of their chosen discipline and the elitism of their fraternity They know mathematics is taextricab- ly connected and forever building from yesterday's ancient Euclidian planes to today's twisting topologies have contact with ancient tradition The priesthood has a conttouou history" Hoffman said He looked away for a moment and then smiled Something charming eminently logical perhaps even counteivtotu- itive had Jumped a synapse mads a -mental connection and confirmed again his membership to the priesthood Alan Hoffman top and Charles MtechnH place groat value on the Into llo dual freedom they have at IBM Watson Laboratories in Yorfctown Tjr is more or less a pictorial idea of a problem you're working on It's definitely not numbers" he paid None of tbe three mathematicians usei IBM's gigantic computing facilities for anything but a small portion of bis work- Miccbelli admits to some occasional by computer and -Kitchens uses a mainframe to pictures" to portray problems on which be is working Hoffman wrote a program back in 1951 didn't run" he uid "and 1 written a program since" All three' talked about the intense amount of concentration and persistence required by high-level mathematics whole point of mathematics is that it is Hoffman uid got to think very hard You incubate an investigation for years If you do some- ginia school where he studied mathematics philosophy and physics It was-not until graduate school at the University of North Carolina that he specialised in mathematics It called for novel ways of thinking about problems and the willpower to atop thinking about them when tbe research proved fruitless 1 takes a different sort of imagination to be a mathematician'' Kitchens uid often hard to quit working on a problem but when -you do you try to find something else that 1 Kitchens looks as if be has just come -in off the quad after a spirited game of touch football He speaks softly and his1 eyes twinkle upon tearing questions giving thf impression he either finds them or the questioner odd For Kitchens mathematics is often a visual experience 4- -JL 1 i.

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About The Daily Item Archive

Pages Available:
870,691
Years Available:
1918-1998