Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Birds and Frogs, a Talk by Freeman Dyson

The legendary physicist/mathematician Freeman Dyson has an interesting essay titled "Birds and Frogs." The essay is the written version of the talk he was to give at the American Mathematical Society Einstein Lecture. Unfortunately, the lecture was cancelled. Fortunately, we get to read the essay anyway.


"Some mathematicians are birds, others are frogs. Birds fly high in the air and survey broad vistas of mathematics out to the far horizon. They delight in concepts that unify our thinking and bring together diverse problems from different parts of the landscape. Frogs live in the mud below and see only the flowers that grow nearby. They delight in the details of particular objects, and they solve problems one at a time. I happen to be a frog, but many of my best friends are birds. The main theme of my talk tonight is this. Mathematics needs both birds and frogs. Mathematics is rich and beautiful because birds give it broad visions and frogs give it intricate details. Mathematics is both great art and important science, because it combines generality of concepts with depth of structures. It is stupid to claim that birds are better than frogs because they see farther, or that frogs are better than birds because they see deeper. The world of mathematics is both broad and deep, and we need birds and frogs working together to explore it..."

He then described examples of birds and frogs along with their discoveries. If you like mathematics or science, you might enjoy the essay.

I would consider myself an ant, almost blind but can detect some sweet smells occasionally. On the other hand, it might be more accurate to say I am an earthworm :-)

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