CTK Insights

20 Feb

Can one learn from people who do not know what they are talking about?

I've been following up on a story according to which George Dantzig - the father of linear programming - once happened to be late to a lecture. When he arrived, he copied down from the blackboard two problems he thought to be a homework assignment. He solved them at home not knowing that the two were put down by the professor as an example of famous, unsolved up to that time, problems in statistics.

It's a nice story to read, to hear, and certainly to be told about. The story even serves as an opening to a chapter in More Mathematical People by D. J. Albers, G. L. Alexanderson, C. Reid. The chapter contains an interview with the famous mathematician.

I am going to explain in a next post how I came across Dantzig's story. Here I just want to record a small quotation I have (nit)picked from the interview.

My father used to hold salons in our home. From age eight until I was sixteen, I used to sit in the corner and listen to the smart-alec intellectuals of the 1920's expounding. I learned a lot but said little. After a while I began to suspect that they din't know what they were talking about.


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