October 10, 2013

Conference: Is there a place for beauty in our research? A few thoughts inspired by Richard Hamming

On Tuesday 15th of October (11:00 - 12:30) there will be a talk of general audience given by Leonid Libkin (University of Edinburgh) in Amphi Turing (Université Paris Diderot, Bâtiment Sophie Germain).

Title: Is there a place for beauty in our research? A few thoughts inspired by Richard Hamming

In 1986, Richard Hamming gave a famous talk entitled "You and Your Research", which discussed how to do really significant research with high impact. His main questions were: are the problems you work on important? Are they timely? What are the main open problems in your area? Can you attack them? If you are not working on them, why? Inspired by this, the University of Edinburgh started a series of Hamming seminars, in which the speakers are supposed to answer these questions about their research fields and their own research.
While preparing mine, I observed that, curiously enough, Hamming never talks about beauty in science and research: neither the word, nor its synonyms appear in the transcription of his talk. And yet we strive to find a beautiful definition, a beautiful theorem, a beautiful proof. But are those really necessary? Do they please anyone except the researcher discovering them? Do they have a lasting impact? Are they worth the effort, or is looking for those instances of beauty just one of the little perks we researchers are allowed to have? In this talk, which is based on the Hamming seminar I gave in Edinburgh, I shall discuss these questions, in a slightly biased view of course, affected by the research areas close to my heart.

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