Sunday, July 18, 2010

RIP David Blackwell (1919-2010)

Mathematics has lost a pioneer. Here is David Blackwell's wikipedia page.


GFreak said...

Wow, I had no knowledge of Blackwell (though I do have some knowledge of the Rao-Blackwell Theorem).

In the bio packet linked from the Wikipedia page, a fantastic excerpt:

Blackwell: Basically, I'm not interested in doing research and I never have been.
Interviewer: What are you interested in, then?
Blackwell: I'm interested in understanding, which is quite a different thing. And often to understand something you have to work it out yourself because no one else has done it.


GFreak said...

And I just saw the quote that I liked from the bio was also included in the NY Times story. I don't like that the NY Times agrees with me....

Mason said...

I don't actually quite agree with his quote because he seems to be creating more of a distinction than their is. Namely, research of some form is necessary for understanding, so it's not like one can completely decouple them. I appreciate the sentiment that the goal is understanding rather than research (as a statement of what the end goal is), but these are inextricably linked. In my mind, they're not "quite different".

GFreak said...

I guess that the reason I like this statement is that it portrays a mindset that is very similar to my own. I'm very interested in understanding something rather than proving something -- although it is true that one can lead to the other in many cases. I can relate to the distinction that he is making since I am (I have found) a much more practice- or application-oriented researcher. That is to say that, while I have no shortage of respect for those who generate proofs and theorems (and indeed my work requires the existence of such things), my interest is in using those results in engineering solutions -- hence my engineering track rather than, say, applied math or applied physics.