The diameter of intellectual space

Posted: 2017-08-07 , Modified: 2017-08-07

Tags: information, compression, communication, unlinked

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Trefethen writes (p. 135):

Scientists like to add new things to our body of knowledge. And so it is that over and over again, authors present their contributions without pointing out links with others’. Sometimes they know the links and don’t mention them. More often they don’t know them, or know them fuzzily, and consider making connections a low priority. Indeed, clarity itself is a low priority, for is it not a sign of lack of depth? In extreme cases these irresponsible papers make our scientific edifice worse, not better, all the while adding to their authors’ reputation for depth and importance. In reaction, when I write an article, I aim for it to “shrink the diameter of intellectual space.” It should make connections, make the reader’s world a little more coherent.

This is a moral issue, and it has cost me, for my obsession with clarity has encouraged my colleagues to regard me as a shade less deep. In 1990 at MIT, if I had been less clear as a teacher and writer, I believe I would not have been voted down for tenure. Does this sound farfetched? Consider that the Dean, in explaining MIT’s decision, informed me that promotion required a world-class research record – clearly assuming since I was a good teacher that I must think otherwise!